Maine Mariners goalie Brandon Halverson makes a glove save on a close shot by Steven Swavely of Reading Royals during a November game at Cross Insurance Arena. (Portland Press Herald file photo)

Portland’s newest pro hockey team paid homage to its namesake Saturday night at Cross Insurance Arena.

The Maine Mariners beat the Brampton Beast 3-1 while wearing the orange jerseys featuring a spoked ship’s wheel inside a rounded lowercase ‘m’ of the Mariners who first scratched the ice of the new Cumberland County Civic Center in 1977.

Next weekend marks the midpoint of Maine’s inaugural 72-game season. An affiliate of the New York Rangers, the franchise is one of the two new members of the 27-team ECHL, along with the Newfoundland Growlers of St. John’s. Both teams filled vacancies created by the departure of a higher-level American Hockey League franchise.

After stumbling to an 0-3 start in October, the Mariners have righted the ship. They entered the weekend third in the seven-team North Division after occupying the cellar until early November. A crowd of 4,733 saw them win at home for the sixth time in seven games and avenge Friday’s 5-2 loss to Brampton.

Friday’s game included a visit from the new ECHL commissioner, Ryan Crelin, 34, who got his start in the league office as an unpaid intern 13 years ago and is two months younger than Maine’s backup goalie, Hannu Toivonen.


Quick to laugh, with long blond hair tucked behind his ears, a backpack slung over one shoulder and a burly frame squeezed into a gray suit, Crelin looks like a guy you’d find playing pickup hockey with his old college buddies. Which, as it happens, he did with former Seton Hall teammates the night before flying to Portland from New Jersey.

“I’ve been through a few league meetings already,” said Mariners general manager Danny Briere, who played six seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers. “I feel very confident about the future of this league with him at the helm.”

The sale and abrupt move of the AHL’s Portland Pirates to Springfield in 2016 left local hockey fans in the lurch.

“We certainly understood there was a bad taste and probably a sense of mistrust with the community,” Crelin said. “In my mind it takes three to five years to build that trust back. There’s usually a little bit of an excitement bubble at the beginning, but the challenge is gaining the long-term continued trust of the community and (fans) knowing that you’re going to be here for the long haul.”

Two other New England cities — Worcester, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire — went through the same ECHL transformation after losing AHL teams. Through 16 home dates, the Mariners were drawing an average of 2,954 fans. That ranks 21st in the league, above Manchester (25th at 2,413) but below Worcester (14th at 4,006).

In their final two seasons in Portland, the AHL Pirates averaged 2,963 and 3,363 per game.


Hovering around 3,000 is about what Adam Goldberg, the Mariners’ vice president of business operations, said he expected.

“I think it will pick up now that football is waning,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of Sundays in the second half and two more Fridays in January. Everybody I talk to has either been to a game or plans on coming.”

Saturday marked the third of four promotional dates that feature unusual uniforms. Thanks to marketing partnerships with Nickelodeon and Marvel Comics spearheaded by Crelin, every ECHL team wears character-themed jerseys for at least one home game. For the Mariners, that meant Captain America on Nov. 10 and Double Dare on Dec. 28. The promotions resulted in the second- and fourth-largest crowds of the season.

“Those are certainly not hockey brands, but it’s fun and it looks cool on the ice,” Crelin said. “It’s great for families and fans of those brands. It gets them into the building and allows them to experience what we’re doing.”

Briere, the GM, is pleased with consecutive winning months after a 2-5 October for a team that has suited up 39 players and undergone 53 transactions. Before Friday’s game, he nodded toward starting goalie Brandon Halverson — wearing headphones and stretching — and noted four recent victories in which Halverson had made between 40 and 47 saves.

“That’s not a recipe for success,” Briere said, “but it was really welcome at the time. That’s the reason we’re fighting for the top spots in the division instead of fighting for the bottom few spots.”

As for long-term success, these Mariners remain hopeful.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” Briere said. “We have a lot of work to do. We know that. That’s one thing we constantly talk about — making sure we get more and more ingrained in the community, and making people realize that this is not just a one-hit wonder and we’re going to be gone in two years. We want to thrive here. We want to be successful.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: