Ben Guite, the new head coach of the Maine Mariners, goes over plays with his team during their first practice last week. The Mariners open the 2021-22 season Friday night against Worcester at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Brycen Martin remembers the inaugural season of Maine Mariners hockey, when everything was new.

Three years later, everything seems new once more.

“There’s a different feel around the rink this year,” said Martin, a defenseman who played in Poland last winter while the entire ECHL North Division took a break because of the pandemic. “Everybody’s excited. We have a younger team and I think we’re going to play pretty fast and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Martin and Alex Kile are among the few current Mariners with any sort of institutional knowledge about Cross Insurance Arena, where the team last played in March 2020.

Those Mariners of 2018-20 were an affiliate of the New York Rangers and coached by Riley Armstrong. These Mariners are affiliated with the Boston Bruins and coached by Ben Guite, a former assistant at the University of Maine.

They open their third season Friday night at Cross arena against the closest ECHL franchise, the Worcester Railers. Maine and Worcester split two exhibition games, with each team winning on the road.

“If we can see the same type of effort we saw last Saturday, I’d be really happy,” Guite said about his expectations for Friday night’s season opener. “We were hunting pucks all over the ice. We weren’t giving that much time and space. We played hard. We played physical. It was an exciting brand of hockey.”

The Mariners trimmed their roster to 25 on Thursday after 6-foot-6-inch forward Justin Brazeau was assigned from the AHL Providence Bruins. The 23-year-old Brazeau played for the Newfoundland Growlers in 2019-20 and scored a team-high 27 goals as Newfoundland compiled a 42-17-1 record.

Only 21 players can be active through the first month of the season, after which the active roster drops to 20.

The current roster has 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies.

The most familiar name among the netminders is Jeremy Brodeur, 24, a veteran of three ECHL seasons and son of Stanley Cup (New Jersey) and Olympic (Team Canada) champion Martin Brodeur, a 10-time NHL All-Star.

Brodeur and Zach Bouthillier are the two goalies expected to be in uniform Friday night. Bouthillier, 21, was a seventh-round draft pick of Toronto in 2018 who will be making his professional hockey debut. He last played in 2019-20 for the St. John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

A third goalie, Sean Bonar, is one of four players on reserve. The others are forwards Jonathan Desbiens and Kile and defenseman Nate Kallen. Kile and Kallen are nursing injuries.

Their absence leaves only three veterans of the 2019-20 season in Friday’s lineup. Lewis Zerter-Gossage, Nick Master and Conner Bleackley are all forwards.

The rest of the forwards are new to Portland and include former Maine Black Bear Eduards Tralmaks, one of three Mariners signed to contracts with Providence of the AHL. The other two are Brazeau and Brodeur.

Kile, 27, was the first player signed by Maine. When COVID-19 concerns put an end to the 2019-20 season and sidelined the Mariners last winter, Kile found a home with the ECHL Florida Everblades, based in Fort Myers. Now he’s back in Portland, trying to build a new culture rather than recreate an old one.

“With new coaches and new players, it’s hard to carry a culture over when you don’t have any (of the same) players,” he said. “That’s something we’re trying to establish now.”

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, Cumberland County protocol calls for fans to be screened entering Cross Insurance Arena. Anyone 12 or older must provide proof of vaccination against the virus or a negative result of a test taken within 72 hours of the event.

Mask wearing inside the arena is strongly recommended. Fans too young to be eligible for vaccination must wear a mask.

Glenn Jordan — 207-791-6425

[email protected]

Twitter: @GlennJordanPPH

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