At precisely 6:24 p.m. Saturday, Mike McKenna strode through an open door and dug his goalie skates into the ice of the recently renamed Cross Insurance Arena.

After an absence of 17 months and two days, professional hockey finally returned to downtown Portland.

“It’s amazing to see what they’ve done with the building,” said McKenna, a little more than three hours later, after helping the Portland Pirates to a 5-2 exhibition victory over the Manchester Monarchs before a crowd of 695. “I really can’t say thanks enough to our ownership with what they’ve done to our locker room and stuff. It’s really impressive and well appreciated.”

McKenna played for the Pirates seven seasons ago, when the rink was called the Cumberland County Civic Center. Since then he’s played for three NHL teams and spent most of last season with American Hockey League rival Springfield.

He is one of several veterans signed as free agents in the hopes of righting a Pirates ship that floundered through a challenging season a year ago, when every home game was played in Lewiston and success was infrequent.

After a scoreless first period, the Pirates took control. Jordan Southorn, Dan O’Donoghue, Henrik Samuelsson, Alex Bolduc and Eric Selleck scored for the Pirates, with Samuelsson’s goal coming on a power play and Bolduc’s short-handed.

Phil Lane and Dylan Reese each had two assists.

“I thought our puck possession was just fantastic,” McKenna said. “On top of that our special teams were really good, too. You combine those two things and it makes my job a lot easier. That was fun to play behind and watch in front of me.”

It was also a fun night for fans who had endured a challenging season of home games played in Lewiston first because of arena refurbishment and extended because of a lease dispute.

“I’m just excited that the hockey season is starting up,” said Jim Thorne, 63, of Auburn, who needed only to cross a bridge over the Androscoggin River last winter to watch the Pirates play at the Colisee in Lewiston.

Despite a drive of 45 minutes instead of five, Thorne said he prefers watching the American Hockey League franchise play in Portland.

“Even though I’m from that area,” he said, “I like the atmosphere here.”

Thorne wore a vintage Trent Whitfield No. 14 jersey that was at least a decade old. Whitfield joined the Pirates as an assistant coach this summer after ending a 16-year playing career that included parts of seven seasons in Portland between 1998 and 2005.

“I’m going to have him sign it again, too,” said Thorne, pointing out Whitfield’s autograph inside the team’s old Pirate-face logo with an eye patch and earring.

Whitfield wasn’t the only dip into Pirate past. Another former player, Brad Church, is now chief operating officer, having been put in place late last season by new majority owner Ron Cain.

“Having Ron Cain and Brad Church take over was the best move the Pirates could have made,” said Kathy Hooper, 55, a longtime fan from Biddeford who made it to only one game in Lewiston after being a regular for two decades.

Bolduc, captain of the 2012-13 squad that reached the Calder Cup playoffs, is also back and centering the first line between Lane and Brendan Shinnimin. Rounding out the starting six were defensemen Evan Oberg and Dylan Reese.

“I was very happy that Alex Bolduc came back,” said Sheila Dombrowolski of Portland, who arrived long before game time so she could greet players on the sidewalk outside of the CIA.

The feeling seemed mutual.

“It was awesome to see familiar faces,” Bolduc said. “I missed Portland quite a bit.”

As for the renovations, Bolduc said he had high expectations. They were exceeded.

“It’s one of the best facilities in the American League now,” he said.