The Portland Pirates attract an extremely devoted group of fans. That’s the lesson I learned after attending the Evening with the Pirates benefit party Wednesday night in the ballroom at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Take, for example, Bill and Donna Knights, whose season tickets put them just nine rows from the home team’s bench. In the past 16 years, the husband and wife have missed only five games at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The reason they missed those games? ”Weddings and funerals,” Donna said.

Bill, who’s a former president of the Portland Pirates Booster Club, which hosted the affair, had nothing but praise for the team.

”I’ve met a lot of great players and coaches over the years,” Bill said. ”As fans you can stay after the game and meet the players.”

Bill and many others I spoke with during the event praised the team members’ good manners, friendly ways and, of course, their superior skills on the ice.

Bill credits Head Coach Kevin Dineen with cultivating such a successful and likable team. Dineen was at the party along with Assistant Coach Eric Weinrich and Pirates CEO Brian Petrovek.

”He has a gift with those young players,” Bill said.

South Portland resident Jessica Salway, another member of the Booster Club, agreed with Bill Knights’ assessment.

”All the guys are really great,” said Salway, who’s been a season ticket holder for the past eight years and has been watching hockey in Portland since back in the Maine Mariners days. ”They’re very personable.”

Season ticket holder Don Crandall of Gray said ”the quality of the play” is the best part about the Portland Pirates games.

”The guys really work hard,” Crandall said.

As if on cue, players Mike Weber and Mike Kostka came by and shook his hand.

Crandall also gave me a valuable hockey tip. While I’m far from a hockey expert, I’ve been to my fair share of games and I never miss an opportunity to take part in the Chuck-a-Puck contest. But on a good day, I’m lucky if my puck makes it over the boards and onto the ice.

Crandall, on the other hand, recently won a Chuck-a-Puck contest, netting him two T-shirts and a free pizza. How did he do it?

”It’s all in the wrist,” he said and demonstrated how to throw the puck like a Frisbee.

While most of the fans I spoke with came to the party from the Greater Portland area, Sam and Deanna Demeritt didn’t think twice about traveling to Portland from Nottingham, N.H. They hold season tickets in Manchester, N.H., half season tickets in Lowell, Mass., and flex tickets in Portland.

Sam said he got hooked on hockey games when he was in college in 1958. Thank goodness he was lucky enough to find a wife who’s cheered along with him for the past 43 years.

Closer to home, Mike McDonough of Portland said he’s been an AHL hockey fan since the Maine Mariners ruled the Civic Center ice.

”My parents used to drop me off and we’d sit in the back row,” McDonough recalled. ”It was great.”

Now he regularly attends the Pirates games and also plays hockey with a group of friends. Actually, he slipped out of the party early to join a 9:45 p.m. game.

In addition to the opportunity to meet the players, the party’s big draw was the ’70s-style funk of Motor Booty Affair, who kept the crowd dancing all night. The first couple to hit the dance floor was Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton and her husband, Bill Hilton. They stopped in at the party after watching Westbrook’s boys basketball team beat South Portland in the Western Class A semifinals at the Civic Center across the street. They’ve had years to practice their dance moves, since Mayor Hilton’s brother Stephen Noyes is the Motor Booty drummer.

The event featured a huge silent auction offering up things like game shirts and gift certificates. All the proceeds from the auction and the ticket sales will be donated to local charities, including Gary’s House.

Some of the hottest auction items were the hand-painted pottery pieces each player created.

”I love that they made the pottery,” said Darolyn Feeney of Portland. ”It’s something different.”

Another thing all the fans at the party agreed upon is that the efforts of a certain senator from New York to move the team to Albany is a terrible idea.

”I’ve been to downtown Albany,” joked Booster Club president Jim Clukey. ”Why would anyone want to go to downtown Albany?”

Showing their fan pride, Jim and his wife, Dianna Clukey, donned what they termed Pirate Booty attire, featuring tie-dyed T-shirts, wigs and Mardi Gras beads. The pair attends all the Pirates home games, and recently traveled to watch the team take on the Lowell Devils.

”Fans in Portland are more gung-ho,” Tim Johnson of Portland told me.

Donna Van Horn, another member of the Booster Club, echoed this sentiment when she said ”I think we have a lot of loyal, down-to-earth people here. Maine is known for being more inviting.”

And as Bill Knights said, ”I don’t think I’ve ever met a player who didn’t like Portland.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

[email protected]


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