Firland Managment President Jim Cain finally found the perfect tenant for the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, after years of trying different avenues and stand-alone hockey events since the Lewiston Maineiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League were sold to the league, which promptly folded the franchise.

On Thursday it was announced that the North American Hockey League, the only Tier II junior hockey league sanctioned by USA Hockey, awarded a franchise — the Maine Nordiques — to Dr. Darryl Antonacci and Nolan Howe, who have been working with Cain and the current L/A Nordiques staff the past few months to secure the expansion team that will begin play at the Colisee starting in the 2019-20 season.

“What I wanted is really what we ultimately got,” Cain said. “Not only we’ve got junior hockey under the USA Hockey model, but we’ve got a business manager and partner. This is so important to me from growth and development of the Colisee as a whole, when you got all of those things, having looked now for several years with a lot of hard work. Certainly Dr. Antonacci with his commitment to hockey … I am no stranger to junior hockey at that level, being involved (in the past) with the Chicago Freeze and (Michigan Warriors) at the Tier II level, this is not new to me at all.

“Our combined efforts are going to produce some high-quality stuff in Lewiston.”

The first attempt at replacing the Maineiacs was to bring professional hockey to town in the form of the Federal Hockey League (which is considered Single-A hockey if baseball’s minor league tier system is applied, in terms of the quality of level). The league scheduled five games throughout the 2011-12 season in hopes of putting in a full-time team for the following season.

Cain decided to go a different direction and instead focused on a partnership with the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League and the Portland Junior Pirates, who were playing in the Eastern Junior Hockey League.

The AHL Pirates played six games in Lewiston during the 2012-13 season while the Cumberland Civic County Center — now known as the Cross Insurance Arena — was being renovated. The Portland Junior Pirates, who primarily played out of the MHG Ice Centre in Saco, also played a couple games in Lewiston that season.

The Portland Pirates organization and Cain also looked into bringing a United States Hockey League franchise — the nation’s lone Tier I junior league that is a primary feeder for NCAA Division I Hockey and produces multiple NHL draft picks each season — to Lewiston, but nothing came out of those efforts other than a press conference announcing intentions to bring a USHL team to town.

The Pirates played most of the 2013-14 season in Lewiston while the Civic Center renovations continued.

Cain was able to secure the men’s NCAA Division III Frozen Four that season, which saw St. Norbert’s College of De Pere, Wisconsin, win the national championship.

The Pirates were back in Portland for the 2014-15 season, and the Colisee was without hockey, other than the high school and youth levels, for most of the year.

Cain set up the move of the New Hampshire Fighting Spirit to Lewiston for the 2015-16 season, with the Fighting Spirit playing two regular-season games during the 2014-15 season in Lewiston.  In addition to the two regular-season games, the North American 3 Eastern Hockey League decided to showcase the league to Lewiston, as the Colisee hosted the league finals, which was a best of three series between the Fighting Spirit and the Jersey Shore Wildcats. The Wildcats captured the title in three games. 

For the 2016-17 season, the NA3EHL merged with its sister league, the North American 3 Hockey League, which was primarily based west of the Mississippi River prior to the merger.

Tier III junior hockey has been in Lewiston ever since the 2015-16 season. Rod Simmons, who owned the Fighting Spirit when the team first moved to Lewiston, sold the franchise after the 2016-17 to Cain for an undisclosed amount, and Cain rebranded the team to the current L/A Nordiques.

Simmons and Cain had tried to land an NAHL franchise for the 2015-16 season, but pulled the application in early May of that year because of the quick turnaround needed to get a roster and staff in place.

What makes the partnership with Antonacci and Howe different than other business relationships Cain tried to create in the past eight years?

Cain believe there’s long-term potential.

“Fundamental to this, the ability to find the right business partner who wants to be there for the long-term, and that’s what happened here,” Cain said. “As I tried other ventures, some of them were somewhat risky, they weren’t long-term sustainable things.

“Now that we have gone through all those things, clearly during that period having the American (Hockey) League, Portland Pirates in the rink for the entire season and (six) games for another season, it really demonstrated the greater Lewiston community still embraces hockey at a high level.”

Androscoggin Bank Colisee owner Jim Cain stands inside the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in this 2014 Sun Journal file photo. (Sun Journal file photo)