Players race down the ice at the Maine Mariners’ first practice of the season at the Troubh Ice Arena in Portland on Tuesday. (Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald)

PORTLAND — The Maine Mariners hit the ice Tuesday morning for their opening practice of training camp, the latest step in restoring professional hockey to Portland more than two years after the Pirates were sold and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Coach Riley Armstrong conducted an energetic workout with 27 skaters and four goaltenders inside Troubh Ice Arena. The roster for the first month of Maine’s ECHL season will stand at 21.

“We had to alter practice a little bit just because of the numbers,” Armstrong said after the hour-plus workout. “Hartford sent some guys down and we had to adjust.”

The Mariners are affiliated with the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League and the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League. Players who don’t make the NHL or AHL rosters trickle down to the ECHL Mariners or are released.

Dreams at this level are of someday playing in the NHL. Such aspirations are more realistic for some players — such as goalie Brandon Halverson, a 2014 second-round draft pick of the Rangers, who called him up last season and had him finish out a game in mid-February against the Senators in Ottawa — than for others.


Halverson, 22, and fellow netminder Chris Nell, 24, both have significant AHL experience with Hartford and both are under contract to the Rangers, so barring injury they almost certainly will be the two goalies on the Mariners’ roster.

After spending time with the Greenville (South Carolina) Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL in each of the past two seasons, Halverson had been hoping to open this one in Hartford rather than return to what he called “the Coast” league for a third straight year.

“Everyone’s path is different,” he said. “Obviously, I can’t control where I’m placed and what teams sign what goalies and how old they are, and stuff like that. The only thing I can control is playing well. And no matter what, if you’re playing well anywhere, you’ll get noticed.

“So I’m going to focus on every practice, this preseason game coming up and hopefully having a good year.”

Brian Billett and Connor LaCouvee are the other two goalies in camp. LaCouvee played three years at Boston University and his senior year at Minnesota State. Billett was born in Brunswick (his father was in the Navy), moved away and returned in seventh grade to Maine. He played for Brunswick High School as a freshman and NYA as a sophomore before entering junior hockey.

After three years at Boston College, Billett has spent three more in the Southern Professional Hockey League, most recently with the Pensacola Ice Flyers.


“This is where I consider my home and where I started hockey,” said Billett, one of three potential Mariners with Maine connections. “It would be a dream come true to play back here in Portland in front of friends and family.”

Billett played on the Portland Junior Pirates with forward Trevor Fleurent, a Travis Roy award winner at Biddeford High School who went on to play at the University of New England and professionally in Norway before signing with the Mariners.

In 2017, Fleurent scored his first professional goal in the SPHL against Billett when the latter was in Knoxville and Fleurent, briefly, in Fayetteville.

The other player with Maine ties is forward Terrence Wallin, 26, who grew up outside Philadelphia but makes his summer home in Kennebunk.

Billett understands the odds are low of his remaining with the Mariners after Monday’s cuts, so he’s hoping to make a good impression.

“For me, it’s a measuring stick,” he said. “I can learn a lot from these guys. With Halverson being such a highly-regarded goalie, I can see why. To be a big guy and to have legs that quick, it’s pretty impressive.”


Besides Halverson and Nell, the only other player in camp with an NHL contract is defenseman Brycen Martin, a third-round pick in 2014 by the Buffalo Sabres, who didn’t have room for him on the roster of their AHL affiliate in Rochester.

“The league is about helping the player get to the next level,” said Armstrong, who at some point in the season may also receive a player or two from the Canadiens’ organization after Montreal lost its ECHL affiliate. “If that’s another player from an organization coming to play here … then the door’s open. As long as we can help develop hockey players and get them into the American League, that’s what our main goal is.”

Daily morning practices at 10:30 a.m. continue at Troubh Arena, open to the public, through Friday. The Mariners have two exhibition games in Exeter, New Hampshire, this weekend: 7 p.m. Saturday against Worcester and 4:35 p.m. Sunday against Manchester. Admission is free.

The season opener is Oct. 13 at Cross Insurance Arena against Adirondack.

“We’re kind of going into it blind,” Halverson said. “I don’t know if there are going to be (a lot of) fans or not. Hopefully, if it’s a big turnout, that will help everyone else to play here.”

Head coach Riley Armstrong watches players race behind the goal during a drill at the first Maine Mariners practice of the season at the Troubh Ice Arena in Portland on Tuesday. (Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald)

Garrett Cecere takes shot during the first Maine Mariners practice of the season at the Troubh Ice Arena in Portland on Tuesday. (Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald)

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