LEWISTON — Lewiston Maineiacs’ majority owner Mark Just isn’t apologizing.

Well, not quite, anyway.

But the fiery Chicagoan, bronzed from the summer sun and dressed in trendy jeans, brown slip-on shoes and a casual, button-up short-sleeved shirt arrived in Lewiston for his team’s seventh training camp here Tuesday, ready to admit past mistakes and look forward to what he believes will be a positive season, both on and off the ice.

“You tend to listen and believe people that you know, and sometimes
it’s not the way you thought it was, but you go forward,” Just said. “I
was told we were paying attention to a lot of things, like marketing
and group ticket sales, that I’ve found out subsequently from Coach
(Don) MacAdam, from (GM) Roger (Shannon) and others that we didn’t pay
attention to a lot of these things, and no one was hurt more by this
than I was, because of the relationships and everything else.” 

Just was calm and relaxed Tuesday, taking the time to recline a bit in an office chair while he seamlessly answered every question tossed his way with apparent candor.

“If we do some of the things that need to be done, which we’re going to do, I don’t foresee any problems,” Just said. “It’s like the trade that didn’t happen, and it turned out better than if you’d made the trade.”

The history

Friction arose between Just and the team’s supporters last winter. After he flew to Lewiston to replace head coach Ed Harding with current coach and team president Don MacAdam, rumors began to surface that Just may move the team from Lewiston, just six seasons after relocating from Sherbrooke, Quebec.

The rumors gained credibility as backers of the proposed move to Boisbriand, a small city outside of Montreal, came forward.

“I want to have five years left in hockey, I want to retire when I’m 70,” Just said. “I’m 66 now, so four years, at least. That’s always been my game plan, and the opportunity arose where I would have been able to retain the team for five years. I got a tremendous purchase price for it, and business-wise, it was a no-brainer. It just made sense, for my family, for myself and for everything else.”

But, like an uneven trade, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League blocked the move, saying Boisbriand, by rule, is too close to another recent addition to the league in Verdun (the Montreal Junior).

The team briefly looked into other alternatives, including Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Ultimately, Just and company returned to Lewiston.

Rebuilding bridges

“I made a decision at the end of last year that we needed to remember what got us to where we were two years ago, and to try to recoup that energy and that chemistry on and off the ice,” Just said. “A lot of things needed to be done.”

After MacAdam, who was elevated to the post of team president early in the offseason, assessed the situation, he found some inconsistencies in the team’s operations and finances.
There was also the business of repairing the team’s reputation in a fickle community largely made up of blue-collar and middle-class families and retired, spend-thrifty senior citizens who recall with fondness the true glory days of hockey in the Twin Cities.

That, Just said, is the most important piece.

“I think we’re going to be fine here,” Just said. “I’m honestly, honestly and pleasantly surprised at how responsive the people have been to us here under the circumstances, which shows to me that maybe I should have paid more attention. I didn’t really realize a lot of things before.”

Part of the original problem was an apparent salvo Just fired when it appeared he and the team were on their way out of town, saying publicly that there was solid fan support from a few, but not by enough of the area’s population base to make the business economically viable.

“I think people misunderstood what I said,” Just said. “Financially, to bring a championship team back here, which we have every intention of doing, you have to average 3,000 people to compete with the Quebecs and the Rimouskis and those teams in the league. I didn’t mean to insult people who supported us day in and day out, and we’re going to do the extra work to get the other people into the building by promotions, by having a good hockey team, by making it a fun night, by doing things with the local hockey programs, by making it a community-based hockey team, which I thought we were trying to do before, but I’ve come to realize I was not hearing all that was going on.”

Other offers

Since his first attempt to move — and eventually sell — the team failed, offers have continued to come in to the Just camp.

“There are always people who don’t want something to succeed and want to be negative, they want something to be angry with,” Just said. “But I can look in the mirror and say I was honest with everyone. When I got the offer to go (to Boisbriand), it was an offer that knocked my socks off, and it was something I had to consider as a businessman. But sometimes, things work out for the better, and that’s what I believed happened here. I have offers on the table now, and if that was my interest, I would have done it.

“But I am optimistic this team can work here,” Just continued. “I like what I see so far. I’m thrilled.”

Moving forward

Part of his optimism stems from a new focus on budgeting the team’s expenses differently.

“I have taken care of everything we’ve had on the back burner here,” Just said. “I’ve told Coach MacAdam, ‘You go forward with a clean slate and make it work financially here.’ Some people don’t understand. A lot, a lot, a lot of money was spent here, and I’m coming to find out it was spent incorrectly on a lot of things. But I put all the money into it now so we’re starting fresh. Based upon what we do now is going to determine the fate of the company. Now, we’re hoping that maybe, if we don’t average 3,000, if we do a little less, we’re still going to be OK because the money is being appropriated correctly, spent wisely and maybe we can afford to run better with a smaller budget than before. Those are things we’re finding out right now.”

Just visibly struggled through reliving the past. After each question pertaining to the failed move, or to his previous statements, he pledged his efforts toward moving forward and remaining in Lewiston while putting forth his best effort through the rebuilt operations and hockey staffs.

“What I envision here, I want to give this everything that I can to make it work here,” Just said. “So that I know, when I look in the mirror, we will have done all of things we could have and should have done here to give Lewiston every opportunity to be a successful venue. I think I owe that to myself, to the people of Lewiston and to our players.”

Speaking of the players, Just said the many changes he and the staff made to the roster this summer were both positive and necessary.

“We cleaned out what needed to be cleaned out,” Just said. “We brought in kids who are similar to the types of kids we had three years ago, who are team-oriented, who it isn’t, ‘What do I get out of it?’ but, ‘What can I do for the team?’ Plus, they’re bigger and better skaters. We have the opportunity to have another team like that here.”

And while another run at a title may be a year away, Just is confident he’ll have one more crack at a title before he retires from the game he loves.
“I want to get back to where we were two years ago, but win the Memorial Cup,” Just said. “Then I’ll feel I’ll have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.”

And, he said, winning that title with the Great Falls as a backdrop would be just fine with him.

“I’m going to give it every shot to be successful here, and not in three months or six months or a year or whatever,” Just said. “I’m planning on being here the rest of my hockey career, whatever that is.”

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