FALMOUTH — Hockey went missing in Portland for less than one calendar a year back in the early 1990’s — after the Maine Mariners left the Cumberland County Civic Center following the 1991-92 season — and the city missed its American Hockey League team.

Along came guys with nicknames like Killer, Sarge, Junior, Sharky, the Colonel, and a goalie named Olie.

And it didn’t take long for that group to not only bond together, but also with a community longing to once again embrace a hockey team.

The Portland Pirates quickly turned the city’s — and the region’s — hockey fortunes around, giving the greater Portland area a season that has been remembered fondly by players and fans ever since. The Pirates, in their inaugural season, won the Calder Cup as AHL champions, cementing a legacy for those players — and the team.

“Trotzie and Gards, they were player coaches,” former player Kevin Kaminski said of the Pirates’ first coaches, Barry Trotz and Paul Gardner. “They let us have some fun. They pulled the reins in a little bit when we needed a kick in the butt. We had the right chemistry. We had great goaltending and great defense. Our forwards, we could all score. We could play the physical game and drop the gloves if we had to. It was an exciting brand of hockey.”

Trotz went on to coach the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators for 15 seasons, and is now the head coach with the Washington Capitals, ironically enough the team that was then the Pirates’ parent club. Gardner coached with Trotz in Nashville through 2003, and now coaches in Europe.


This summer, 20 years later, the team is reliving that season and celebrating it with their fans this weekend. Many of the players will be in Maine to participate in the reunion.

“It hasn’t been since that year that we’ve all be together,” Kaminski, still a fan favorite, said. “Everyone, whether they go overseas, retire or go to different leagues, you see guys through the years one-on-one. You say, ‘Hi, how are you doing? How’s the family?’ And then you don’t see them again for many years.

“I think it’s going to be a great reunion just because so many guys are coming back. We can reminisce about that year and all the fun times we had.”

Among the players expected to appear include Kaminski, Kent Hulst, Jeff Nelson, Todd Nelson, Michel Picard, Chris Jensen, Darren McAusland, Chris Longo, Ken Klee, Olaf Kolzig, Jeff Sirkaa, Kerry Clark and Trotz. Mike Parsons and Jason Wooley had planned to attend but had to cancel.

“It was obviously very exciting to see what kind of response we had especially after 20 years,” Hulst, now a coach with the Junior Pirates, said. “When you get to reunions after 20 years, the interest kind of drops down a little bit. But we were a close batch of guys and we did win a championship. We all keep in contact. So it’s pretty exciting.”

The festivities include a meet-and-greet with current Pirates season ticket holders and sponsors Friday from 6-8 p.m. at the newly-renamed Cross Insurance Arena. The players will then meet with fans at Fore Play Sports Pub on Fore Street in Portland.


Saturday, the players and sponsors will gather for a charity golf tournament at the Dunegrass Golf Course in Old Orchard Beach, raising money for Camp Sunshine. The tournament gets underway with a shotgun start at 8 a.m. Also participating are current team COO Brad Church and assistant coach Trent Whitfield, both of whom are also former Pirates players.

Those not participating in the tournament can watch and have lunch with the players afterward.

There are spots still available in the golf tournament, even for just a single player. Tickets for the barbecue are also available for $30.

“I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans to see everyone again,” Kaminski said.

Kaminski, who is currently the head coach of the Louisiana IceGators in the Southern Professional Hockey League, has already been in Maine for most of the week. He’s been working with Hulst at the Portland Pirates Summer Day Camp for young hockey players at the Family Ice Center in Falmouth.

“We went out to eat the other night and there was a guy that recognized us and said when he was in high school, he used to come and watch us,” Kaminski said. “We chatted with him for a bit. That was pretty cool, to come back and have people recognize us.”


That Pirates team made an immediate connection with the fans in Portland and Kaminski has always been one of the most popular. Having the fans and community involved in the reunion festivities was a natural part of the planning because of that decades-old bond.

“We went above and beyond to get involved in the community,” Kaminski said. “The community really took to us. They packed the stands. The Ebrights (owners Tom and Joyce) were always involved and always took time for the fans.”

The night the Pirates won the championship in late May of 1994, Tom Ebright invited fans into the locker room to be part of the celebration. Thousands more were at a victory parade through Portland a few days later.

“We went to the schools,” Kaminski said. “We did a lot of other charities. Me and Kerry Clark, we did so much stuff on our own. We got out there. Whatever had to be done, we did it. Guys signed up and got out there.”

With the 20th anniversary of that championship approaching, Kaminski knew something should be done to recognize it.

“I contacted Hulsty, who lives here, and I contacted Darren McAusland, who isn’t too far away from me in Tuscaloosa, Alabama,” Kaminski said. “We tried to get everyone’s number and e-mails and tried to get the ball rolling. We’ve had a great response.”


Hulst contacted the Pirates and mentioned the idea. The organization embraced the opportunity and has helped in the planning.

“They did a lot of the workload in getting sponsorship and all those things,” Hulst said.

Some of the players arrived in Maine on Thursday — most will arrive Friday. Trotz won’t make it until Saturday because of commitments with the Capitals.

The hope, Hulst said, is that this event could become a regular occurrence, bringing together former players from the franchise’s entire run in Portland.

“It will be pretty cool to see all the guys,” Hulst said. “I’m sure there will be many stories that we forgot about.”

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