Tomorrow night, the Portland Pirates will face the Manchester Monarchs in Game One of the Pirates’ 2013-14 season.

In Lewiston.

Game time is 7 p.m. on what is now the Pirates’ home ice.

In Lewiston.

There is now an American Hockey League franchise in Lewiston.

On Sept. 30, after negotiations between Cumberland County Civic Center trustees and Pirates’ ownership came to an impasse, the Pirates announced the organization would move its entire 2013-14 season here.

While there has not always been a hockey franchise in this city, there has always been hockey. There have always been hockey players and hockey fans and Lewiston has always been considered a hockey town.

We welcome the Pirates to town.

The Colisee, once known as the Central Maine Youth Center, has been home to a lot of good hockey (and one historic World Heavyweight Boxing Championship rematch).

Built in the late 1950s, the Quebec Nordiques played there from 1973 to 1977. The Maineiacs, part of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, arrived in 2003, won the President’s Cup in 2007 and played there until 2011.

The Youth-Center-turned-Colisee has also been home ice to Lewiston High School, Edward Little and St. Dom’s, where players have suffered losses and celebrated championships, have learned the importance of team cooperation and acquired the art of sportsmanship.

Thousands of area youth hockey players have laced up in the locker rooms there over the years, and volunteer coaches have spent winter after winter teaching basic skating and passing skills.

Over the years, the Colisee has also hosted NCAA Division I games, and plenty of men’s league pick-up games have been played at odd hours when ice time was available.

Youth, schoolboy, college, amateur and professional hockey have anchored this arena from the time it was built by the Catholic Church, through the financial struggles of the 1990s and change of ownership, right up to today. And, while the Colisee also hosts concerts and live shows — like tonight’s Sesame Street Live “Make a New Friend” production — hockey is its lifeblood.

And, this year, Lewiston and Bowdoin College will host the Division III national hockey championship. It is the first time the NCAA has chosen a Maine venue.

When the NCAA announcement was made, Jim Cain, CEO of Firland Management Group, said “This is going to be an outstanding national event coming to Lewiston-Auburn.”

He’s right, and it’s a tremendous win for this city.

So is welcoming the Pirates to town.

The team played a limited schedule here last year, which provided Pirates’ ownership with a positive glimpse of the arena and the fans.

Since 2003, from the time the city acquired the property and later sold it to Firland Management, the physical plant of the arena has improved. A spacious Baxter Lounge have been added and the restrooms and locker rooms have been upgraded. It’s not the youth center of old. It’s a modern facility where every seat offers a good view of the ice, and it’s a place that honors its solid history of competition, of fan devotion and community pride.

The AHL is just days into its season, which started Friday with five games played, one at St. John’s, another at Rochester, at Lake Erie, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. There were 11 games played on the second day of the season and four games played Sunday.

The Pirates/Manchester game is the only contest Wednesday, which means AHL fans across this country and Canada will be watching Lewiston.

The Colisee may be the smallest venue in the American Hockey League, but let’s show the Pirates and every team they face that we have the biggest heart. We have the most enthusiastic fans and we have the greatest love of the game.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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