The Maine Mariners announced Wednesday that it will become an ECHL affiliate of the Bruins, joining the Portland Sea Dogs and Maine Celtics as sporting connections between Maine’s largest city and New England’s sports heavyweights.
The Bruins’ affiliate in the ECHL — the second tier of the NHL’s minor leagues, beneath the Springfield-based American Hockey League — has been the Atlanta Gladiators since 2015. Like Maine, Atlanta voluntarily opted not to participate in the 2020-21 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the Bruins unofficially sharing the Jacksonville club this past season with the Winnipeg Jets.
“We are extremely excited to be affiliated with the Bruins organization and we’re proud to solidify the Boston-Portland connection with all three of Maine’s professional sports franchises,” said Mariners President Danny Briere. “We can’t wait to bring live hockey action back to Portland this fall, and we know that Mariners fans will be thrilled to watch players from the Bruins organization playing right here in Maine.”
A previous iteration of the Maine Mariners was Boston’s AHL affiliate from 1987-92, before the franchise was wooed to Providence and rechristened the Providence Bruins, where they regularly rank among the league’s top draws. The AHL’s Baltimore franchise relocated to Portland for the 1993-94 season, becoming the Portland Pirates and winning the Calder Cup in its first year.
The Pirates played 23 seasons at the former Cumberland County Civic Center until being sold in May 2016. The new owners moved them to Springfield, a longtime AHL city which had lost its most recent franchise.
Portland joined up with the ECHL — formerly the East Coast Hockey League, but renamed in 2003 after having expanded nationwide — in June 2017 when Comcast Spectacor bought its dormant Alaska franchise and moved it to Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena, which it manages through a subsidiary and which lacked a primary tenant after the Pirates’ departure.
The Mainers had previously been affiliated with the New York Rangers. On Tuesday, the Rangers announced they were shifting their ECHL affiliate to Jacksonville, Fla.
While affiliated with the Rangers, the team missed the playoffs in its inaugural year of 2018-19, ranking sixth-lowest in the 27-team ECHL with 2,998 fans per game, and was facing a similar fate when COVID-19 halted the 2019-20 season.
Worcester also participates in the ECHL, and the two New England clubs formed the North Division in 2019-20 with teams from Adirondack, N.Y.; Reading, Pa.; Brampton, Ontario; and St. John’s, Newfoundland. A team in Manchester, N.H., folded after the 2018-19 season.
The Mariners’ 2021-22 season will begin on Oct. 22. See the full schedule here.