LEWISTON – Randy Cyr wasted no time when he learned that the Portland Pirates would play their entire 2013-14 season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
First, he called his girlfriend, who was equally excited. Then, he reserved season tickets for the same four seats they had when the Maineiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League played at the arena on Birch Street, until 2011.
Cyr said he’s more than willing to pay the $1,520 when tickets go on sale Monday. It’s a reasonable fee to watch an American Hockey League team in a city where the sport has been a dominant pastime for nearly a century.
“Hockey’s been a big part of our lives,” Cyr said during his lunch break Friday. “I played as a kid, but not very well. My son played all the way up and through high school. It’s a cultural thing. Everybody’s kid plays, pretty much.”
Cyr, who grew up in Lewiston and lives in nearby Lisbon Falls, is among the many hockey fans and business owners in Lewiston and surrounding towns who see Portland’s loss as their gain.
The Pirates had planned to play 13 home games at the Colisee from October through January, while the $34 million renovation of the Cumberland County Civic Center was completed.
That turned into the whole season when Pirates managing owner Brian Petrovek announced Thursday that the team would pack up and move to Lewiston because of a stalemate in lease negotiations with the civic center’s trustees.
Interest in the Lewiston area is strong, but the move is getting mixed reviews from fans in southern Maine, said Christian Ouellette, a Lewiston native who is an account executive for Pirates’ tickets sales at the Colisee.
“We’ve been getting a bunch of calls,” Ouellette said. “A lot of people are excited that we’re going to be in Lewiston. Some are saying they’re disappointed to have to drive to Lewiston or that they won’t be doing it.”
Some have turned in their tickets, Ouellette said.
Whether the Pirates will make money in Lewiston remains to be seen. Season tickets for the 3,677-seat Colisee are selling for $10 a game, while season tickets for the 6,733-seat Cumberland County Civic Center sold for $16 to $17 a game, Ouellette said.
“We’re fully expecting to fill this building, make it a success and keep it in future years,” he said.
City Administrator Ed Barrett said the Pirates had a positive economic impact when they played a few games at the Colisee last season.
“Having them here for the whole season is good for the whole community,” Barrett said, noting that the team will attract some people who have yet to see the impact of recent economic development efforts in the city.
Tim Blue, manager of Pedro O’Hara’s pub and cantina on Main Street, agreed that Pirates games will light the lamp for many Lewiston businesses.
Behind the bar, a Pirates hockey jersey already hangs among several jerseys that represent various local high school, college and professional teams.
“We sponsored the Pirates when they played a few games here last season,” Blue said. “It definitely generated some business for us then and it will again this season.”
Blue said the Pirates will find an eager audience in Lewiston, where some kids start skating as soon as they can walk. His 7-year-old twin sons took to the ice when they were 4 — after their grandfather bought each boy a pair of hockey skates and a helmet for Christmas.
“Once they got skates, we put them in the learn-to-skate program,” Blue said. “Last year they played in the Mini-Mites Division and this year they’ll be in the Mites Division. They love it.”
No U.S. city has deeper roots in hockey culture than Lewiston, a former mill town that was flooded with French-Canadian immigrants in the late 1800s.
Many had played the sport in Quebec and New Brunswick, including the Catholic priests and brothers who were powerful leaders in the fast-growing Franco-American community.
They formed L’Association Saint-Dominique, a young men’s group that organized the first recorded hockey game in the city in 1916, according to a history of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
After the association won the first Maine Hockey Championship in 1922, local businesses pitched in to build the city’s first indoor arena next to the association’s clubhouse on Bartlett Street. The arena was dismantled during World War II and moved to the South Portland Shipyard to be used as an assembly building.
In 1941, the association was dissolved and the clubhouse became St. Dominic High School. The Catholic community raised money to build the first arena for the high school on Birch Street in 1950. That arena burned in 1956 and was replaced with the Central Maine Youth Center in 1959.
Later, the building was the Central Maine Civic Center, before the Roman Catholic Diocese sold it in 1989. The city renovated the center several years ago, adding a new facade and changing the name to the Colisee.
Through the years, the arena has hosted thousands of high school, youth league, adult league and professional hockey games and other events. Hockey teams from either St. Dom’s or Lewiston high schools have won 44 of 86 state Class A championships, according to the Maine Coaches Association.
Mike Turcotte, a Lewiston native who lives in Wales, said that hockey heritage will serve the Portland Pirates well as they test the ice in another community. Turcotte, for one, is ready to see them rattle the glass at the Colisee.
“I love the sport,” Turcotte said. “Give blood. Play hockey.”
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: