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

(Continued from page 1)

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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

Berube said the merged leagues now have an incentive to be more efficient in their operation.

"Before, we didn't have the motivation to do things a certain way because we didn't have to," he said. "Now, we have a reason to change the way we operate."

In the past, Berube said Auburn Youth League teams didn't start practice before 9 a.m., and none practiced after 8:30 p.m. Under the new arrangement, practices for some teams now may start a little earlier or run a little later.

THE PROBLEM

This past season, the LAYHL and the Maine Gladiators -- an offshoot program that offers more advanced development for nearly 100 players who live within a 30-mile radius of Lewiston -- combined to rent nearly 900 hours of ice time at the Colisee.

But according to Jim Cain, that was not enough for the arena to remain financially solvent.

"In an effort to make the place economically viable, at some point I have to have consistency in the programming," he said. "When you have ice, it doesn't go away overnight. It just can't sit there. You have to use it."

According to Jim Cain, putting the 3,675-seat Colisee on a firmer financial footing is essential in finding a primary tenant to replace the Lewiston Maineiacs, who spent eight years at the facility before ceasing operations.

Jim Cain said his company joined with MHG in an effort to lure a team from the USHL into the building.

"The Colisee was in a situation where they were running at a deficit," said Ron Cain. "(Jim Cain) needed it for the long-term viability of the building, and we needed it as an opportunity to expand our brand. Our objective here is, and always has been, to bring as high a level of hockey to Maine as we can and develop the kids in Maine to the highest level they want to achieve."

USHL EXPANSION?

The Junior Pirates will start running youth programs this summer at the Colisee, and the Portland Pirates will play as many six games in the building next season. But it may take some time for the USHL to decide to locate one of its teams there.

"It's not going to happen overnight," said Skip Prince, USHL commissioner.

Currently, the entire 16-team league is located in the Midwest. The Youngstown (Ohio) Phantoms are the closest USHL team to Maine. Prince said he's spoken with potential ownership groups in Pennsylvania and New York, Massachusetts and Virginia, as well as in Maine, to investigate the viability of expanding eastward.

"I'd say we're still in the first stages of that analysis," he said.

In order to make it work, a new division of four to six teams would have to be created, Prince said. But the USHL, which develops players ages 16 to 20 primarily for Division I colleges, is approaching expansion cautiously.

"The worst thing in the world is to dilute the quality of the current player base by trying to put forward six teams at once," said Prince. "This would have to be a kind of gradual-growth proposition."

LEWISTON'S ATTRIBUTES

Prince likes what he's seen in Lewiston.

"Lewiston has some attributes. It sounds like the group there is willing to put some money into the building. It's a good group there, very professional," said Prince, who added it costs between $1.2 and $1.5 million a year to operate an USHL team. "It generally takes a building of 3,500 to 4,000 seats, and you need to average 2,200 people per game," he said.

Prince said there are five keys to success for a USHL team.

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