It’s been a summer of never-ending sun. The weather gods, who crapped on the state of Maine in 2009 with 26 days of rain in June, and generally terrible weather for much of the school-vacation season, made up for it in spades this year.

I can honestly not tell you about two consecutive rainy days this summer, because I am pretty sure that didn’t happen. It created a fantastic season for visitors from away, and a great season for Maine residents to run, walk, bike, golf, boat, camp and do all of that other fun summer stuff that you can’t really do when there are six feet of snow on the ground.

For better or worse, it also helped most people forget about hockey. This year, that might have been a good thing.

With the Lewiston Maineiacs in turmoil for much of the year — from a fired president and coach in late 2009 to another coaching change to a second consecutive near-basement season, to layoffs to prevent going under to delays in the hiring process due to federal laws, seven of the last eight months or so have been, well, depressing.

The bright spot in the middle of all of that was the draft period. At the QMJHL draft, the Maineiacs played their cards brilliantly, secured the No. 1 overall pick and brought in one of the best defensive prospects in Canada, who just happens to have a brother on the team already. The rest of the draft was done with eyes on a Cup run: toughness and grit up front, and solid goaltending. At the European draft, the team picked up the best 17-year-old goalie in Russia.

Some of the team’s die-hard fans then began their outcry. We need this, they said. We need that. This and that and this and that. The woe-is-me, woe-is-the Maineiacs mentality started to again trump the support they all still felt for the team. Things weren’t being done “now.”

Those who sat back and were a bit more patient have been rewarded.

This organization took its time. It had the targeted employees on the hook the whole time, but immigration laws prevented some of the major pieces from falling into place.

Enter Bill Schurman, this so-called long-lost front-office manager. Schurman was the man the Maineiacs were targeting. He is here. Now what?

Now, the team’s goal of reconnecting with the community appears to not only be a thought or a wish, but a mandate under Schurman. He’s inviting himself over to anyone’s home who will have him, he’s meeting with more businesses, potential sponsors and movers and shakers in the area than some people might have believed existed. And he’s doing it blindly, never having lived or worked in the area.

And it’s working.

There is a buzz around the team again. Those same die-hard fans who were bemoaning the franchise for its lack of effort are lining up and asking, “Where do I sign up?” From fan-based welcome barbeques to offers to help with game-day operations, to offers to house players, the people close to the team are starting to come back.

But the long-term viability of the franchise in Lewiston, even with an area-based minority owner, will depend entirely on its ability to completely reconnect with the people who still have not gone back, and to connecvt with the thousands of people in the area who never bought in to begin with.

There have been cries from some to market the team in Augusta, Brunswick, Portland and all points in between. But, like Schurman said, there are 60,000 people in the Twin Cities alone. Drawing 2,500 from that number shouldn’t be as hard as it has been.

Less than a week from now, the team will be back together. Some 40 players, all with the ultimate dream of playing professional hockey for a living, will touch down in Lewiston/Auburn from points as far east and north as you get from the cities.

It’s time for hockey again, no matter how much sun and heat are out there. It’s time for the focus to be on the ice — the skating, the passing, the shooting and the players.

I’ll be there next week, not only to cool off, but to watch some of the best up-and-coming hockey talent in the world prepare for what can only be a better season than the last. For the sake of the franchise’s existence in Lewiston/Auburn, the team is hoping I am not the only one there.


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