Brian Petrovek, chief executive officer of the Portland Pirates for nearly 14 years, has left the franchise after a tumultuous season that saw the American Hockey League affiliate temporarily move its home games from Portland to Lewiston and finish last in the league in both attendance and performance.
The Pirates announced Petrovek’s resignation Monday afternoon.
“Where the Pirates are now, and as we set ourselves up for an exciting future, a lot of thanks have to go to Brian and all the work he did over the past 14 years,” said Brad Church, a former left winger for the Pirates who took over as chief operating officer during a management shakeup in late February.
Petrovek, 59, was part of an ownership group led by Boston lawyer Lyman Bullard that purchased the Pirates in 2000. Bullard remained the majority owner until this winter, when Ron Cain increased his stake in the team and, shortly thereafter, took over CEO duties from Petrovek, who remained president of business development.
Church said he believes Petrovek retains his ownership stake. “Although I’m not an owner,” Church said, “so I don’t know for sure.”
Calls to Petrovek, Cain and Bullard were not returned.
But in a prepared statement, Petrovek said, “My decision allows Ron to steer the ship on his own course and begin a new journey for the brand and our fans and sponsors as the team prepares for the 2014-15 season.”
In a statement, Cain thanked Petrovek for his service.
“Brian is at the top of his game,” Cain said. “Our loss will be another’s gain.”
Cain lauded Petrovek’s success in attracting the AHL all-star game to Portland in 2003 and 2010 and his involvement in civic and charitable organizations. Petrovek has served on the boards of Maine Medical Center, the United Way of Greater Portland and Portland’s Downtown District.
Petrovek was also the face and voice of the team’s difficult and extended lease negotiations with trustees of the Cumberland County Civic Center in 2003, 2010 and 2013. “We’ll give it three more years,” he said after grudgingly signing a 2003 agreement. “We will not play in the building three years from now unless it has been renovated or the economic terms are different.”
In 2010, Petrovek flirted with moving the franchise to Albany, N.Y., before agreeing to a two-year extension. After voters approved a $33 million bond in 2011 to renovate the civic center, its trustees reached an agreement with the Pirates on a one-year lease with an eye toward a longer-term deal.
Such a deal, which seemed to be imminent in April 2013, fell apart in August. In September, the team filed a lawsuit and then announced that its entire 38-game home schedule would be played at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
“With any sports team, there’s a certain amount of friction around the guy who’s the face of the organization,” said Chris Hall, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Certainly, the last year and a half has been difficult, but people should reflect on all the good years and the contributions. The city of Portland is well known as a great minor-league sports town. Well, one of the reasons is because of people like Brian Petrovek.”
The first few months in Lewiston included three sellouts and an average attendance of more than 2,600 fans. The Pirates won a franchise-low 10 “home” games. They ended the season with a 10-game losing streak and an average attendance of 2,185 – the only one of 30 AHL franchises below 3,000.
A new five-year lease with the civic center was announced in February, after Cain became majority owner and the Pirates dropped their lawsuit against the county-owned facility.
“Ron, Lyman and I started talking more definitively about the opportunity and need for change as the ink dried on a new long-term lease with the civic center and the completion of the renovation project,” Petrovek said in his statement.
Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center’s board of trustees, said he and Petrovek often disagreed, but their relations were never disagreeable.
“Brian was always a zealous advocate for the team and a tireless promoter of the Pirates brand,” Pratt said. “He tried to do what was best for his team and his business and I respect that and wish him well.”
Pratt said the list of Petrovek’s charitable efforts is impressive.
“He has done a lot of volunteer work for the community,” Pratt said, “and I think he should be recognized for that.”
In March 2013, Petrovek pleaded guilty to operating under the influence as part of a deal to avoid jail time after he crashed his Jeep Wrangler into the concrete barrier on Spring Street in Portland. His blood-alcohol content was measured at three times the legal limit for driving.
“What his legacy will be, I don’t know,” said Church. “My hope is that people look at the big picture and recognize all the good that has come with his leadership of the organization.”
In another, unrelated change, the Pirates lost their general manager Monday when Brad Treliving, former assistant GM of their parent NHL club, the Phoenix Coyotes, was hired as GM of the NHL’s Calgary Flames.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: