BRIAN PETROVEK ASKED if he could retract something he said Friday afternoon. Or at least reword his statement regarding the negotiation of a lease agreement between the Portland Pirates and the Cumberland County Civic Center.

“I shouldn’t have said ‘The ball’s in our court.’ The puck’s in our corner would have been appropriate.”

Nice to know a small bit of humor has survived the wrangling over a hockey team’s future in Portland. Not many fans are lining up to buy the Pirates’ managing owner a beer. Not when he and his partner, Lyman Bullard, are considering moving their team to New York or heaven knows where.

Not when season-ticket holders and game-day fans bought into the notion that the Pirates are their team. That’s the problem when capitalism rears its head and strips fans of the status they believed they had as team stakeholders.

The top dogs in this fight are Pirates ownership and Cumberland County trustees. The fans are spectators.

Petrovek has been pilloried in fan cyber forums, accused of extortion and hostage taking. The trustees are a faceless bunch. How do you shake your fist at them?

But in your rage of helplessness, consider this: Hasn’t Petrovek been the one catalyst in the fight to remake the Cumberland County Civic Center? Politicians come and go. Civic leaders step up or back. Petrovek has been the constant.

He and Bullard arrived 10 years ago. Two Harvard guys who said they were making a commitment to keep the AHL in Portland. Not many believed them. You thought they’d flip the franchise to another buyer, cash out and reap a windfall.

The affiliations have changed from the Washington Capitals to the Anaheim Ducks and now the Buffalo Sabres. The play on the ice has made you sit on your hands or stand and cheer. Team ownership had its hits and misses with promotions.

Ten years is a long time for pro hockey in Portland. No other owners have done it longer.

Petrovek has none of the ebullience of Tom Ebright, who moved the Skipjacks from Baltimore and renamed his team the Pirates. Ebright was self-made, had wealth, and enjoyed hockey and people. What other team owner would don the mascot’s uniform to better hear what fans said about his team?

You welcomed Ebright with open arms. Yet on this point, Ebright and Petrovek are no different. Ebright moved his team to a city where it might prosper.

Petrovek, under the proposal presented by the county trustees, says the Pirates cannot prosper in Portland. Believe him or not, it’s his risk.

Petrovek says he wants a new partnership with Cumberland County. The trustees have their own definition of partnership and today the sides can’t find common ground. Godfrey Wood, who partnered with Ebright and now leads the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce, has offered to mediate.

Petrovek thinks that’s a good idea. Neal Pratt, the lead negotiator for the county trustees, said thanks but no thanks. Great. Both sides are at the take-it-or-leave-it stage and expect the other to blink first. The nation is polarized and gridlocked. Why should Portland be different?

Except Petrovek can break the gridlock by taking his team elsewhere.

Maybe it all comes down to a turf battle. Or a clash of personalities. The relationship between Petrovek and the hardworking Steve Crane, the Civic Center general manager, has been cordial at best.

Petrovek and Bullard could offer to buy the Civic Center. The county owns the building and the city owns the land, but Bullard, a respected Boston lawyer, could untangle that. The county could bring in a management company to maximize revenue.

Call it thinking out of the box. Call it leadership.

There hasn’t been much of either.


Sports Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]


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