Their game venue in Portland under construction, all part of a $33- million project at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates needed a place to call their “second home.”

Enter the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, a facility that lost its main tenant, the Major Quebec Junior Hockey League’s Lewiston Maineiacs, two years ago, and was in desperate need of a boost.

The Pirates and Lewiston seem to be a marriage made in heaven.

“The Portland Pirates in Lewiston is fabulous, with two sellouts so far in our six-game package for this year,” said Portland Pirates’ managing owner Brian Petrovek, who will watch his team take on the Worcester Sharks tonight at 7 p.m. at the Colisee. “Mike and Jim Cain (Colisee owners) have done a great job in Lewiston. We have received good fan support, and we consider the Lewiston

Auburn area an important fixture to our franchise.”

And, the Pirates, the top minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Phoenix Coyotes, have been successful in Lewiston. The team opened its home slate of 38 games at the Colisee on Oct. 19 with a 7-4 victory over the Sharks, and followed it up with a 4-2 win over the Binghamton Senators Oct. 27. That gives the Pirates a 5-0-0-1 record in its last six games at the 3,800-seat Colisee.

“I believe we have never lost a regulation game there, knock on wood, and the guys realize that we have two homes with great fans,” said Petrovek. “Lewiston has certainly been a lucky charm for us, and we hope to continue that on Wednesday.”

Coming into tonight’s contest, the Sharks are second in the AHL’s Atlantic Division with a 6-5-1-1 record, good for 14 points, while the Pirates are third with a 5-4-1-1 mark (12 points) after defeating the Hershey Bears in Pennsylvania on Sunday. The teams met in Worcester, Mass., on Friday, with the Sharks coming away with a 3-1 victory.

The logistics

Because of the work at CCCC, the Pirates have been forced to move around a bit this season. The Pirates have held practices at the Portland Ice Arena (next to Hadlock Field) and MHG Ice Centre in Saco.

“The challenges of practicing in Saco is that the ice isn’t as wide as what we play on, which makes it tough considering we need to be practicing on the size we perform on,” said Petrovek. “There will be work done in the offseason in Saco to make the rink wider, and the facility there will become our practice facility in the future.”

Petrovek feels moving around to different facilities is more of a challenge to those behind the scenes.

“The extra burden of playing games in Lewiston and practicing at different rinks rather than in Portland rests on the support staff, having to get the gear, sticks, pucks and everything else to the place well before the team arrives,” said Petrovek. “We have personnel in Lewiston a day-and-a-half early to get the venue ready. For the players, it is business as usual.”

Despite the CCCC facelift, the Pirates are still scheduled to host 32 games there in the regular season.

“Right now, the building is not very attractive. But, the good thing about the construction is that it started and has an end-point,” said Petrovek, who says the work on the 1975-built facility will be completed next summer in time for the 2013/14 AHL season. “We are focusing on the fan. We will have club seating, suites, a wider, nicer concourse. The lighting will be better, with multiple points of entry into Cumberland County Civic Center. Most of the work is centered in the guts of the building, and there is really no piece that will be left untouched.”

And, Petrovek said the Pirates are reaching out to other parts of the state for support.

“We are working with chambers of commerce, with leaders in Augusta, trying to expand out product, and we have found there are a lot of Portland Pirate fans out there,” said Petrovek.

Still, the Pirates face challenges as the future unfolds. The AHL is discussing a plan to reduce the current 78-game schedule down to 72.

“The challenge in Portland is Cumberland County Civic Center hosts several events, not just hockey, so a smaller schedule throughout the league is something that is being heavily discussed, and we have already cut down a couple games from a high of 80 to our current 78,” said Petrovek. “So, as we move forward the challenge will be to make sure we are being fair to our team. Our team plays three games in three days far too often, and by reducing the schedule we can limit those situations.”

After two sellouts at the Colisee, Petrovek is interested to see how well tonight’s mid-week contest comes off, along with games in Lewiston Dec. 14 (Manchester Monarchs), Dec. 29 (Adirondack Phantoms) and Feb. 17 (St. John’s Ice Caps).

“Wednesday night games have always been a challenge with ticket sales, but we are confident we will do well at the gate,” said Petrovek. “In January, we will relook at the product in Lewiston, discussing the future of games there. For now, we have four more games in Lewiston, so we will be keeping a close eye on how things work.”

“We have sold 3,000 tickets as of today (Tuesday), so we still have a full day to sell more plus walk-ups,” said Jim Cain, who has enjoyed working with the Pirates. “They’re good people and understand the program, plus our youth teams (Lewiston Junior Pirates) are growing and taking shape in this first season. It has been a great partnership.”

NHL stars

The AHL is the top minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League, which is currently in the midst of a second lockout in seven seasons.

“Every team in our league has benefited from the lockout as far as the product on the ice goes, with each team having between four and seven players who would be playing at the top level if not for the lockout,” said Petrovek. “Some players have chosen to play in our league, while others decided to play in Europe.

“For us, we have a player like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who decided to stay here rather than go back home to Sweden. He will be a good NHL defenseman some day. These athletes today are so skilled. The product in the AHL is really good.”

Petrovek feels the future is bright in both Lewiston and Portland.

“We are fortunate to be in Lewiston, and the fans seem to like the product and are supporting the team,” said Petrovek. “Hopefully, when we have games in Portland, fans from Lewiston will come down, and vice-versa.”


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