LOWELL, Mass. — University of Massachusetts Lowell athletic director Dana Skinner has fond memories of the Bangor Auditorium.
He spent parts of two seasons with the Maine Lumberjacks (1979-80), who played their Continental Basketball Association games at the Bangor Auditorium.
“It was a great experience up there,” said Skinner, a guard who played his college basketball at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.
“The people who followed it really followed it,” recalled Skinner before his team’s Hockey East playoff game with Maine. “They were looking to be entertained and we had Billy Ray Bates. You won’t find anyone more entertaining than Billy Ray Bates. He was a special athlete.”
Bates was one of the league’s top scorers and was known for his shooting prowess before playing in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers.
“He was fun to watch and play with,” said Skinner. “He was as good an athlete as I have ever seen at any level.”
Bates also played a hand, indirectly, in Skinner’s decision to hang up his sneakers.
“I found myself saying if I’ve got to go up against guys like Billy Ray Bates every night I should probably find something else to do,” quipped Skinner.
Skinner went on to coach the New England Gulls in the new Women’s Professional Basketball League the next year before eventually taking a path that led him to athletic administration.
He said he remembers the close proximity between the fans and the court at the Bangor Auditorium.
“They were passionate and you heard them loud and clear,” said Skinner.
He said it’s always sad to see a special venue torn down.
“I remember the outdoor basketball court I grew up on in Danvers [Mass.]. I used to play basketball 10 hours a day. Then they tore it down and when I drove by it for the first time, I thought I was in the wrong place,” said Skinner.
Skinner said he is excited about seeing the new Cross Insurance Center and his Lowell basketball teams could be playing the University of Maine Black Bears there. UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott is negotiating to play the school’s home basketball games there and UMass Lowell is joining America East.
“I heard the new building is really something,” said Skinner.
Former University of Maine assistant coach Joe Clark worked with UMass Lowell freshman sensation goaltender Connor Hellebuyck with Odessa (Texas) in the North American Hockey League last season.
Clark is now working for Topeka (Kansas) of the NAHL this season.
“He’s special,” said Clark in a telephone interview with the BDN on Friday. “He’s a throwback. He loves to play the game.
“He was one of eight goalies we brought into training camp last year and he was head-and-shoulders better than the others,” said Clark. “We had a bad team and he’d face 50-60 shots a game.”
He said UMass Lowell offered Hellebuyck a scholarship in October 2011 and he asked Clark about whether he should accept it.
“I told him it’s a real good league and Lowell was going in the right direction,” said Clark.
Clark said Hellebuyck has a great work ethic and a lot of talent.
He also said it wouldn’t surprise him if the big goalie makes it to the NHL if he can continue to develop.
Hellebuyck entered Friday night’s playoff game against Maine with a 15-2 record, a 1.52 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage.