LEWISTON, Maine — Portland Pirates forward Alexandre Bolduc, like most professional hockey players, has a pretty good hockey memory.
His recollection of playing at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, however, got a bit fuzzy Wednesday.
“I had a playoff series there when I was 18, went to seven games,” Bolduc recalled. “The travel was rough, but we won, so it was OK.”
That was at the end of the inaugural season of the Lewiston Maineiacs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Bolduc skated that season for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who defeated Lewiston in seven games.
Reminded then of a playoff series he played in Lewiston the following year (a Maineiacs sweep of Shawinigan, the team to which he’d been traded midseason), Bolduc paused and laughed.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Funny how you slip those out of your memory.”
One thing Bolduc does remember vividly from his trips to the Colisee is the noise the fans generated.
Now the captain of the Pirates, the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, Bolduc is hoping he and his teammates will once again be able to draw on that energy as Portland begins its season with a pair of home games at the Colisee.
“We’re all excited to see how the fans are going to be,” Bolduc said. “I remember them being loud when I played there against Lewiston, and it’s going to be nice to have them on our side this time. We’re definitely a team that’s going to feed off of the crowd’s energy. It’s the opening game, and I’m sure the fans in Lewiston have wanted to watch some good hockey for a while now, and we’re going to give them all we have.”
The Pirates entered into an agreement with the Colisee to play six regular-season home games at the Lewiston facility this season while the Pirates’ home, the Cumberland County Civic Center, undergoes significant upgrades and construction.
“I’m looking forward to launching this six-pack relationship,” Pirates’ managing owner and CEO Brian Petrovek said. “Perhaps it’s something I should have done last year independent of the renovation project.”
The first of the six games is Friday, the team’s official home opener, against the Worcester Sharks.
“We’re heading, hopefully, toward a sellout,” Petrovek said. “We had four or five hundred tickets left, but those are starting to move nicely with a short window left, and Game 2 is looking pretty solid as well.”
The Pirates will return to Lewiston on Saturday, Oct. 27, for a second home contest. The next four in Lewiston are on Wednesday, Nov. 14, Friday, Dec. 14, Saturday, Dec. 29 and Sunday, Feb. 17.
“It looks like we’re getting the buy-in so far from the fan base, and they’re going to see a very talented team as they go on the ice this weekend.”
An added appeal to the early-season AHL games this season is the presence on most teams of a handful of players who would otherwise be playing in the National Hockey League but for the ongoing NHL lockout.
“It’s a good experience and a good learning tool for guys who maybe haven’t had the experience of playing in the NHL yet,” Bolduc said. “It’s a great chance to see where they rank among players who have spent some time there.”
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of those players for Portland. A top draft pick by the Phoenix Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson was one of the top defensemen in the NHL down the stretch last season. He’s expected to suit up this weekend against Worcester.
“Just the way he acts, in practices and in games, you can tell he’s a bona fide NHLer and we’re happy to have him here,” Bolduc said. “Every team has a couple of good players, but we have one of the best defensemen in the league, for sure.”
The Sharks have their own NHL rising star, and another player who may be familiar to Lewiston hockey fans, in James Sheppard. A former Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward, Sheppard has plied his trade in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild since 2007, and has three points in two games.
Yanni Gourde, who scored 124 points for Victoriaville of the QMJHL last season, is also on the Sharks’ roster.
Former QMJHL skaters with the Pirates, aside from Bolduc, include Brandon Gormley and Mathieu Brodeur.
The team suffered a setback to Adirondack in its first outing last Saturday, but the Pirates are confident they can turn things around in time for Friday’s tilt.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted, but we still did good things, and we can still improve on a lot of things, and we plan on doing that Friday,” Bolduc said.