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Professional Hockey History in Portland
As the famous Stompin’ Tom Connors song goes, “the good old hockey game is the best game you can name,” and many local fans know this tune from our visits to our local arenas. Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena, the renamed and refurbished Cumberland County Civic Center, has been home to the Maine Mariners of yore (1977-1992), and currently the Portland Pirates (since 1993). Years of exciting games and American Hockey League (AHL) Calder Cup Championships have been won by our local teams. With the start of the new 2014-15 season, here’s a salute to professional hockey in the Greater Portland area.
Ice hockey has been played in the Portland area for much longer than professional leagues have been here- especially in local colleges (notably the University of Maine and Bowdoin College), as well as unorganized pond hockey. Before the arrival of the Maine Mariners (1977), in the brand-new Civic Center, an influential team was filling the stands in Lewiston: The Maine Nordiques.
In the early and mid-1970s, Portland didn’t have an ice arena large enough for a professional team. The Nordiques’ success prompted the game you see in the 2 Portland Public Library archival photos immediately below, taken on October 23, 1974. The Maine Nordiques (affiliated with the Québec Nordiques) took on the Flames- and won the game handily, 11-2, at Riverside Arena in the North Deering section of Portland. 1,200 fans were at that game, and in retrospect we can imagine the turnout helped inspire the idea of building a professional arena for a downtown team!
Maine Nordiques vs. Atlantic Flames, at Riverside in Portland.
A bit of sports trivia in the photo below: the Flames forward being thwarted by the Nordiques’ defense is
Mike O’Connell, who later played for- and coached the Boston Bruins.
The Maine Mariners, based in Portland, won 3 Calder Cup championships and many playoff wins, in their 15 seasons here. Their affliates included the Philadelphia Flyers, the New Jersey Devils, and the Boston Bruins. In the program below, you may notice the “black and gold,” from the Mariners’ latter parent NHL team. In 1993, the Bruins moved the franchise to Providence, Rhode Island.
The two Library archival photos below are from the Maine Mariners’ first Calder Cup title.
The Maine Mariners celebrate their first Calder Cup, 1978.
Fortunately, Portland hockey fans didn’t have to wait long for a new team to play here in the city. Just a year after the Maine Mariners became the Providence Bruins, the Portland Pirates began in fall 1993.
The Portland Pirates, originally affiliated with the NHL’s Washington Capitals flew out of the gates with their over-the-top home games and the Calder Cup, in 1994. Their current affiliate (after the Capitals, and the Buffalo Sabres) is the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. The Pirates’ 2014-15 season begins this week.
Just below are some Library archival photos from the Calder Cup final in 1994. In 6 games, Portland defeated the Moncton Hawks.
Above photo: Todd Nelson of the Pirates sends one in, with the Hawks in pursuit.
Below: Pirates goalie Olaf Kolzig makes a stop on Dan Bylsma of the Hawks. (More trivia: Bylsma went on to coach the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins.)
The Portland Pirates with the Calder Cup, on the ice on Free Street, and (below) in front of Portland City Hall during the city’s festive parade and rally.
Some Portland-area hockey memorabilia: The Nordiques, the Mariners, the Pirates, and regional NHL favorites- the Bruins.