Maine Mariners Coach Ben Guite acknowledges that turnover is common on ECHL rosters. But this season? “It’s probably more extreme than ever,” he says. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

By Travis Lazarczyk

Staff Writer

Teams in the ECHL are accustomed to players coming and going like the locker room is a bus terminal. That’s kind of the point of minor league hockey, to develop players so they can advance to the next level in their pursuit of the NHL.

That still didn’t prepare Maine Mariners Coach Ben Guite for what happened when his team played a pair of games at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, a week before Christmas. Between call-ups to the AHL (the minor league between the ECHL and the NHL), injuries and players out after testing positive for COVID-19, Guite had 13 skaters – nine forwards and four defensemen – for the games against the Lions.

“Trust me, it wasn’t pretty hockey. The message to our goalie was freeze the puck. Throw everything down the ice. Make it as ugly as possible… We made it slow, sluggish hockey, which is not normally our brand of game, but that was the game plan,” said Guite, a former player and assistant coach at the University of Maine who is in his first season with the Mariners.

“That’s probably the shortest bench I’ve ever been a part of. You’re looking up and down the bench and no one’s there. Everyone’s huffing and puffing,” said Mariners captain Connor Doherty, one of the four defensemen who gutted out those two games. The Mariners won the Friday game 4-3 in a shootout before fatigue caught up in a 5-2 loss to the Lions on Saturday.

Advertisement

The Mariners (13-13-3) end their all-star break Friday with the first of three games against the Orlando Solar Bears at Cross Insurance Arena. The ECHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins, Maine hasn’t played since Jan. 12,  a 4-2 loss to the Worcester Railers. Ten players spent at least part of the break on an AHL roster. Three players, defensemen Andrew Peski and Zach Malatesta and forward Ian McKinnon, were called up to Providence, Boston’s AHL affiliate.

Guite said he expects most of those players to be back in Portland for Thursday’s practice.

“There’s always a guy or two missing. That’s the level, right? Especially this year,” Guite said. “It’s probably more extreme than ever.”

When an NHL team loses a player to the COVID-19 protocols, it grabs a player from the AHL. The AHL club in turn plucks a player from the ECHL. This season, the talent pool isn’t at deep as normal. The NCAA allowed college players an extra year of eligibility in the wake of games lost to the pandemic, so many players who would be professional rookies are fifth-year seniors on college rosters. Some players simply retired, Guite said.

This week, the Mariners signed Cumberland native Ted Hart for the second time. The 25-year old Hart had last played for the Mariners in the 2019-20 season before playing one game with Worcester and two with the Mariners this season.

“You’re trying to find guys who can help in a pinch, who can still play and who want to do it. It’s the land of broken toys at times, but they take pride in playing hard and playing well. It’s been fun,” Guite said. “You look at every ECHL lineup this year, everybody is taking guys out of retirement to play games.”

Lower minor leagues, like the Southern Professional Hockey League, have been a source of talent, as well as players who left Canadian university teams when they went on pause. Guite said playing time has been a selling point when recruiting players to fill the roster gaps. Why sit at home waiting for the AHL to call when you can play with us and be in game shape?

Pascal Laberge, who leads the Mariners with 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points, is back after a brief call-up to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Mariners can make a run in the North Division now that the core of the team is back. Maine sits in third place in the division, two points behind the Newfoundland Growlers and five behind the Reading Royals.

“I think we’ve been on a good run since Christmas break. We have a good opportunity to move up in the standings,” Laberge said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. 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: