LEWISTON — Move over, Lake Placid, here comes Lewiston-Auburn.
The NCAA announced Monday that Bowdoin College will host the 2014 Men’s Division III National Hockey Championships at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston in March 2014, marking the first time the NCAA has awarded a hockey championship at any level to a venue in Maine.
“This is going to be an outstanding national event coming to Lewiston-Auburn,” said Jim Cain, CEO of Firland Management Group, which owns and operates the Colisee.
“You’ll have a significant economic impact over four or five days, we’ll have hotel partners in a significant way,” Cain continued. “The city will be involved, as we need a lot of help to get this thing done. In addition, and perhaps most of all, the service providers in the community will be called upon by thousands people who are visiting this community. They will be using the services here. This is great news for the communities.”
Officials from the Colisee and Bowdoin College partnered with the fledgling Maine Sports Commission, founded in February of 2012, to create the successful bid, which pried the tourney from Lake Placid, N.Y.’s Herb Brooks Arena.
“I found out through the National Association of Sports Commissions about the bids going out around the country, and so the rest of the sports commission, we reached out to potential venues around the state, and the Colisee was excited to bid with us,” Kerry Hoey, Executive Director of the Maine Sports Commission, said.
“We then approached Bowdoin as an NCAA host institution, and they were very excited to get on board with it as well. We also worked closely with the cities of Lewiston-Auburn and also the Maine Lakes and Mountains tourism council to help with the hospitality end of it, to really get a good, collaborative effort going,” she said.
“This is really going to give us an opportunity to roll out a red carpet in a way that I don’t think we’ve been able to in a long time in this community,” Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said. “I love the history of this place, so I think back to the international exhibitions we held for snowshoeing, and back in the days of the mill hockey teams when we would host large hockey tournaments. This is of that scale. And when you think of Lake Placid hosting it right now, and what kind of activities and the face of the community they have, this is our chance to spend the next 12 months getting ready.”
Cain, who has plenty of experience hosting large events at some of the other facilities his group owns and manages, was skeptical at first.
“Being around hockey, and looking at the fact that it had been at Lake Placid for the past number of years, a national venue, I agreed that we would submit a bid,” Cain said, “but I wasn’t all that encouraged that we would be awarded the bid.”
The collaborative effort paid off, though.
“The history and long-standing tradition of hockey that we have here in Maine, especially at the Colisee and in the Lewiston-Auburn area, really helped out,” Hoey said. “I know Bowdoin, as a host institution, has nothing but great respect among the NCAA and hockey community, and having them on board was a great part of that, as well.”
“We are excited to bring the championship to Lewiston, Maine,” Don Olson, chair of the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Committee and director of athletics at St. Scholastica, said in a news release. “The facility is newly-renovated and will provide an outstanding student-athlete experience. In addition, Lewiston is located within driving distance of a majority of our East Region membership which should help with attendance. Our committee has great confidence that Bowdoin College will do an outstanding job as the host institution.”
Cain said this won’t necessarily be the largest event any of his facilities have hosted, but he said it will be one of the largest in terms of impact on the community as a whole.
“This is right at the top, mainly because of what we’re trying to accomplish here at this building,” Cain said. “In terms of an event, we’ve hosted large events before. I hosted the national junior championships at our arena in Chicago several years ago, where we had hundreds of scouts and other people coming to the venue. I believe we can execute here at this building. It probably bodes well for this building, because a significant amount of money was invested in this building prior to my acquiring this facility. So this is right at the top.”
The Androscoggin Bank Colisee, formerly the Central Maine Youth Center, Central Maine Civic Center and the Lewiston Colisee, underwent major renovations in the early 2000s after the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Sherbrooke Castors [eventually the Lewiston Maineiacs] announced their intention to relocate to Lewiston. Most of the renovations were completed by 2005.
The team’s eight-year tenure at the facility ended in 2011, when the league purchased the franchise from owner Mark Just and immediately disbanded it, disbursing the players throughout the league.
The Colisee has been without a major hockey tenant since then, but has filled ice time with off-site games from the Federal Hockey League, NCAA Division I teams, and the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates, who played six regular-season games in Lewiston this season, and may play more during the playoffs.
Last year, the Colisee entered into an exclusive partnership with Maine Hockey Group and the Portland Junior Pirates for the youth level teams at the facility.
“The development of youth hockey here, so we can get kids to be as good as they possibly can be, and then if you expand that concept to other things we’re doing with [the] Junior Pirates and selects hockey in terms of hockey academy concepts, and rolling that all into here, where all of a sudden we get awarded a national championship, it really makes sense in terms of what we’re trying to do at the grassroots level.” Cain said. “It’s excellent, and we couldn’t be happier.”