LEWISTON – The hockey fans who have been gnawing sticks and grinding pucks with their teeth, awaiting the arrival of the 2006-07 Lewiston Maineiacs’ season, will be placated tonight.

“It’s time to drop the puck,” said Maineiacs’ head coach and general manager Clem Jodoin. “I hope there are a lot of fans to see this team. We have an exciting team. We have speed, we have talent, we have grit.”

The Maineiacs also have a strong collection of rabid fans who have been not-so-patiently waiting for the season to begin in earnest. They come from all over Maine – and in some cases New Hampshire. They are young and old, married and single.

And they love their hockey.

This year, they say, more than in any other since the team relocated to Lewiston from Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 2003, the team will be exciting. And good.

“It’s exciting because we have more potential here than in any other year,” said Bill David, a car salesman and faithful season-ticket holder since the team’s inception. “We have all of the angles, all of the pieces we need to bring a championship here.”

David has missed just one game since the team arrived, an ill-fated contest against Baie-Comeau in December 2003 that resulted in multiple misconduct penalties and suspensions for both teams.

“I don’t think I had anything to do with that,” said David. “Well, maybe.”

Last year, Bill and his wife, Kelly, were expecting a baby in the early part of the season.

“The team wasn’t home when he was born,” said David. “That’s probably a good thing.”

Five days later, though, David was back at the rink.

With his wife and 5-day-old son, Daulton.

“He’s been a fan since he was born,” David said proudly. “Still now, hockey is the only sport he can watch and stay interested in. He pays attention to it.”

David is committed, for sure. To the Maineiacs.

The team has drawn plenty of interest from outside of Lewiston/Auburn, including the watchful eye of Mike Burawski of Gardiner.

If there is a professional, semi-professional or junior hockey team in New England that Burawski hasn’t seen play at least once, he’d be hard-pressed to tell you which one it might be.

It likely doesn’t exist.

Burawski, a mortgage broker who works out of Brunswick, counts the Lewiston Maineiacs among his many hockey allegiances.

“I went to 93 hockey games last year,” said Burawski. “I have season tickets to the Maineiacs, season tickets to the Pirates, I went to more than a few of the Bruins’ games last year, and I went to a couple in Syracuse to watch (Alexandre) Picard play.”

His handle on the team’s popular chat forum, Picard’s The Man, leaves little doubt about his favorite player to don the team’s sweater.

And there are more trips in the works.

“I’ve got trips planned to Philadelphia, Long Island, New York City, New Jersey, Columbus and Los Angeles planned for this season,” said Burawski, who has carefully timed all of his trips to avoid missing Maineiacs’ home games.

Of course, Burawski’s plans may change, depending on Picard’s status. The former Maineiacs’ forward was sent back to Syracuse as the Blue Jackets’ final cut this week, but may see time with the parent club later in the season.

“That’s the great thing about the Maineiacs,” he said. “Eventually, you’ll see all of the players dispersed throughout the AHL and NHL so there won’t be a game on TV that isn’t meaningful in some way relating back to this team.

“This is going to be an unbelievable season. We’ll be at the top of the league most of the year, and we’re just loaded.”

Eric Potvin has been a hockey player – and a fan – since he can remember. He played for Lewiston High School in the late 1990s and then went off to Boston for school. He stayed there for a few years afterward, but heard through the grapevine that Lewiston had been granted a team.

“When I look at a roster from the first two years, I see a lot of names I don’t recognize,” said Potvin. “But I followed the team the best I could, I went to the games around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and followed them online. Hockey’s always been my passion, and I was always disappointed to see the level of interest in high school hockey drop off like it did here. This was something I saw as a chance to put life back into this building.”

Since he moved back to the area, Potvin has seized the chance to attend every game he can. This year, assuming he does not win a pair of free tickets offered by the team in a promotion, Potvin plans to be among the ranks of the season ticket-holders for the first time.

“This team is going to be so fun to watch,” said Potvin. “The way the team is built, it’s going to make for a high-scoring, fast-paced game every night.”

In keeping with his roots as a fan, Potvin is also trying to stir up a group of fans to become the Androscoggin Bank Colisee’s version of Duke’s Cameron Crazies, and has dedicated a Web site to his endeavor at: www.geocities.com/maineiacsmadhouse.

Ryan Tripp always had fantasies of being in a rock and roll band.

Now, he is. Has been for many years, really.

No, you may not have heard them on the radio, but Tripp and his band, Jeroba Jump, are hoping to make a lasting impression on the Maineiacs’ faithful this afternoon.

“We’ll be out there all afternoon setting up, and we’ll start playing whenever people show up,” said Tripp, of Auburn.

Tripp has been a season ticket-holder for three years – sort of.

“I didn’t get them last year, but came to almost every game anyway,” said Tripp, “so I got two this year for me and my wife.”

Tripp is excited about the season, and about the team’s makeup.

“The team made some moves that are going to bring the casual fan to these games,” said Tripp. “They brought in guys like (Triston) Manson, (Simon) Courcelles and (Danick) Hudon-Paquette. People here still remember the days of the Maine Nordiques, what Al Globensky did here. People still like that style of hockey, even in the new era of the game.

“And, we have a really fast-paced, hard-nosed, gritty team. This is going to be a great year.”

As for his free concert in the parking lot, Tripp and Jeroba Jump plan to play a blend of original music and ’80s rock cover songs, which inspired much of their own music.

“It’s something different,” said Tripp. “I love the team and it’s something fun for us to do.”

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