May 6, 2012

Power play: Junior Pirates make move to build base in Lewiston

A purchase of prime ice time at the Colisee is forcing an existing youth league to move elsewhere.

By Paul Betit pbetit@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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MAINE'S FIVE LARGEST
YOUTH HOCKEY ASSOCIATIONS


Casco Bay Youth Hockey Association: 501 players

Lewiston Area Youth Hockey League: 310 players

Portland Junior Pirates: 275 players

Casco Bay Travel: 239 players

Auburn Youth League: 204 players

Source: Registrar, Maine Amateur Hockey Association

LEWISTON - When the Maine Hockey Group -- 40-percent stakeholders in the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League and owners of the Saco-based Junior Pirates -- gobbled up most of the available ice time in Maine's version of hockeytown, some viewed it as a hostile takeover.

With MHG's purchase in March of about 1,200 hours to start running its programs this summer at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, Lewiston's existing youth hockey organization will no longer be able to use the Colisee, its home for nearly 50 years.

To the volunteers who run the Lewiston Area Youth Hockey League, the deal between the Colisee and MHG was a step designed to put them out of business.

To Colisee owner Firland Management, the loss of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Lewiston Maineiacs last year and diminished ice time purchases over the past few years made MHG's offer an attractive option when few others were available. It also opened the door for potential growth, with talk of bringing to town a team from the United States Hockey League, the nation's highest-rated junior league.

To the owners of the Portland Junior Pirates, expansion of operations into Maine's hockey hotbed was a sound business move. Ron Cain, MHG's majority owner, wasn't surprised about the initial hostile reaction to the expansion of the Junior Pirates' programs into Lewiston, yet he is ready to move forward.

"I do understand the emotion up there," Cain said. "But at the end of the day we're just putting a product out there. If people want to come, they can come. Really, the heart of what we're doing is for the kids, and we don't lose sight of that."

YOUTH LEAGUE FALLOUT

When the announcement of the Junior Pirates' move into Lewiston was made, officials of the local youth organization said they had been given little warning such a move was imminent.

"I was briefed about it the day before the press conference," said Andy Guerin, LAYHL president.

But Jim Cain, president of Firland Management and no relation to Ron Cain, claims he's been telling LAYHL officials almost from the time his company purchased the building four years ago from the City of Lewiston for $1 million that changes had to be made in order for his firm to continue to operate the building.

It didn't take long for the LAYHL to react. A week after being told it would no longer be able to rent ice at the Colisee, the all-volunteer group announced it was merging with the Auburn Youth League.

"We're going to team up with Auburn, and we're going to get ice from other venues," Guerin said.

The new youth hockey association, which could be the largest in Maine with a combined registration of more than 500 boys and girls, intends to operate its programs at Ingersoll Arena in Auburn, as well as arenas at Hebron Academy, Bates College, Kents Hill School and Bowdoin College. They also hope to use the Bank of Maine Ice Vault, which is under construction on the site of the old Kennebec Ice Arena in Hallowell.

"We're going to do more of the (American Development Model) that USA Hockey recommends us doing anyway, which is putting more than two teams on the ice at a time to work on individual skills," Guerin said.

The merger could help beef up segments of the youth program in the Twin Cities, especially for girls.

"Now, we will be able put two full girls teams out on the ice in just about every age group," said Denis Berube, president of the Auburn league. "One will be for girls who want to play a highly competitive schedule and the other team will be for girls who don't want to do that."

(Continued on page 2)

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