PORTLAND, Maine — Professional hockey is on its way back to Maine’s largest city.
Comcast Spectacor, the parent company of Spectra and the Philadelphia Flyers, announced on Thursday that it has purchased the Alaska Aces ECHL franchise and will relocate the team to the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. The yet-to-be-named team will begin play with the 2018-2019 season.
“We are excited to reignite the hockey tradition in Portland,” said Flyers President Paul Holmgren in a release. “The Flyers organization has a strong commitment to winning and developing future stars, and we intend to bring that same culture to this franchise. We’re also happy to have an opportunity to assist Spectra in its commitment to the Portland region and the Cross Insurance Arena, a great facility that has recently benefited from a major renovation.”
The ECHL team will fill a void left when the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates announced in May 2016 that it was relocating the franchise to Springfield, Massachusetts.
“This is a great day for sports fans here in Portland,” said Mike Scanlon, Spectra’s Divisional Senior Vice President, in a release. “We would like to thank Cumberland County, the Cross Insurance Arena Board of Trustees, the City of Portland, for their support in helping us to bring a hockey team back to the Cross Insurance Arena. We’re excited about adding 36 great nights of affordable, family-friendly entertainment to an already vibrant event calendar.”
The relocation of Comcast Spectacor’s newly acquired ECHL franchise will create 36 home regular-season games and potential playoff dates for Portland’s venue, as well as numerous marketing and sponsorship opportunities for local businesses. The new franchise’s business operations will be run by the Flyers organization. Holmgren will serve as the team’s governor, and former Flyer Danny Briere will oversee the day-to-day operations of the club.
Portland’s entry into the ECHL will re-establish New England rivalries with former AHL cities that now compete in the league, including the Manchester (New Hampshire) Monarchs and the Worcester (Massachusetts) Railers.
“We are grateful to Comcast Spectacor for the work they are doing at Cross Insurance Arena and for bringing hockey back to Portland,” said Mitch Berkowitz, Chair of the Cross Insurance Arena Board of Trustees, in a statement. “This is an exciting time for the Board of Trustees, Cumberland County and hockey fans throughout the region.”
While Comcast Spectacor will seek a National Hockey League affiliation for the team, it is not anticipated to include prospects whose NHL rights are currently held by the Flyers. The organization has an active ECHL affiliation with the Reading Royals that is unaffected by this transaction.
The new team’s roster will mirror that of many other ECHL teams in that most of the players will be under contract to the team itself, and will be recruited and signed by the team’s own hockey operations staff. Players will enjoy state-of-the-art locker room and training facilities thanks to an 18-month, $33 million renovation of Cross Insurance Arena that was completed in 2014.
The ECHL, which began in 1988 with five teams in four states, has grown into a coast-to-coast league with 27 teams in 21 states and one Canadian province as it celebrates its 30th season in 2017-2018. There have been 623 players who have started their career in the ECHL have gone on to play in the NHL, including 24 who made their NHL debuts last season. The ECHL had affiliations with 26 of the 30 NHL teams in 2016-2017.
Comcast Spectacor is part of Portland’s rich hockey history. In 1977, the company purchased an AHL expansion franchise to play at the then-new Cumberland County Civic Center. The Maine Mariners were a Flyers affiliate until 1983 and played in Portland through 1992, when they were replaced by the Portland Pirates. The Mariners won the Calder Cup in each of their first two seasons, and added a third in 1984.
For the past four seasons, the Flyers have run the business operations for the Hartford Wolf Pack, an AHL franchise owned by and affiliated with the New York Rangers. From 1996 to 2009, Comcast Spectacor founded and owned the Philadelphia Phantoms AHL franchise, which currently plays at the Spectra-managed PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The Cross Insurance Arena’s Board of Trustees issued a request for proposal to several potential businesses and individuals to bring a team to Portland. A Strategic Development committee composed of Joe Gray, Jon Jennings, Sue Witonis and Dale Olmstead thoroughly reviewed the RFPs and determined that it was in the best interest of the Arena and the Portland region to move forward and work with Comcast Spectacor.