It takes a matter of seconds to walk from the Cross Insurance Arena at Free and Center streets – the home of the Portland Pirates hockey team – to the front door of Brian Boru, an Irish tavern on Center Street offering live music, pub fare and a deck overlooking the city’s waterfront.

So when news began to circulate Wednesday afternoon that the Pirates had been sold and were being moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, hockey fans at the bar expressed shock as well as anger that county taxpayers had helped pay for a $34 million upgrade to the arena in the belief it would be a permanent home for their team.

Jay Harper, an avid hockey fan from South Portland, remembers going to Maine Mariner hockey games in 1977. At that time, the arena was known as the Cumberland County Civil Center.

Harper, who teaches at Freeport High School, at one time helped Tom Caron announce a few Portland Pirates games. Caron is now a sportscaster in Boston.

Harper has heard all kinds of rumors over the years about the team threatening to leave Portland, but Wednesday’s announcement caught him off guard.

“I am absolutely shocked,” he said.


“The Pirates seemed like a stable organization and Portland has been a good host city,” Harper said, adding that he hopes Portland can find another hockey team to replace the Pirates.

Jeff Dalbec of Cumberland has been a huge hockey fan since he started going to games with his father as a young boy. He remembers the night the Pirates won the Calder Cup in 1994, and said he got to drink from the cup after the game.

Dalbec, who was bartending Wednesday afternoon at Brian Boru, is angry that Cumberland County taxpayers authorized spending millions of dollars on the arena with the expectation being that it would serve as the Pirates’ home for years to come.

“The thing that is really disappointing to me is that we just spent millions of dollars renovating that facility and now the team just turns around and walks away,” Dalbec said. “It’s a shame to see Maine without a hockey team.”

Brian Boru owner Daniel Steele said the loss of the Portland Pirates means his business will have to absorb a significant economic hit. Game nights bring lots of fans into the pub and his staff of 26 workers rely on those fans for wages and tips.

“For those of us who are still here, it will have a huge financial impact,” Steele said. “It is going to be hard on us.”


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