An eastward expansion of the United States Hockey League could aid in the recruitment of players for the University of Maine.

“It would be a great development for Eastern hockey at all levels, college all the way down,” Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said. “It would be huge for parents of high school-aged kids. Instead of sending their kids out to the Midwest to play junior hockey, they would have an option right here in New England to play at the very highest level.”

According to USHL Commissioner Skip Prince, the 16-team league is investigating the viability of creating a division of four to six teams in the Northeast.

Prince said the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston is one of several locations under consideration.

“No doubt there are a lot of recruiters who don’t make trips to the Midwest because we don’t have the budget to do that,” Whitehead said. “It’s a big advantage for the western schools and the big-money schools in the Boston area. We would love to see the USHL spread to the east.”

Whitehead said his program has been able to recruit only a handful of players from USHL teams.

“More of our kids come from the Eastern Junior Hockey League because of its proximity,” he said. “Next to the USHL, that is the next strongest (junior) league.”

Brian Petrovek, CEO and managing owner of the Portland Pirates, said he has been discussing with Prince the possibility of basing a USHL team in Lewiston ever since the Lewiston Maineiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League ceased operations last year after eight seasons at the Colisee.

The QMJHL produces many future NHL players, but players in that league aren’t eligible to play NCAA hockey.

“It will help grow the value from a fan’s perspective when they go see (a USHL) team in Lewiston, and they realize those kids could be playing at Maine, New Hampshire, Boston College or Boston University,” said Petrovek. “There’s a closer connection and much better fit with a USHL team than there was with a team from the (QMJHL).”

The Saco-based Maine Hockey Group is the prime mover in the effort to bring a USHL team to Lewiston.

“In my opinion, the hockey is as good, if not superior, to what was there before,” said Ron Cain, the majority owner of MHG.

According to Prince, 35 percent of the players who suited up for NCAA Division I teams this past season were USHL alumni.

“From the University of Maine’s perspective, it is very expensive to fly out to Des Moines, Iowa, to catch one game,” Whitehead said. “It’s very expensive, and it’s just not possible to do (that) for our program very often. We could drive to Lewiston every week to see a game.”

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

pbetit@pressherald.com

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH