Portland is unlikely to meet the deadline to apply for an East Coast Hockey League expansion franchise for the 2017-18 season after an investor identified as a potential financier pulled out of the deal.

Godfrey Wood, who has been heading an effort to bring minor league hockey back to Portland, said in July that he had found an out-of-state investor willing to put up most or all of the $750,000 needed for an ECHL expansion franchise fee. On Tuesday, however, Wood said that after meeting with the unnamed investor “three or four times,” the investor opted not to proceed.

But buying an existing franchise and relocating it to Portland by the fall of 2017 remains a possibility, according to Wood, who said he has spoken with other potential investors.

The ECHL board of governors plans to meet at the end of September to, among other things, consider applications for expanding the league to 30 teams. Parties in Reno, Nevada, and Jacksonville, Florida, have expressed interest.

“We have not received any application from any group representing Portland,” said Joe Babik, director of communications for the league. “If something were to happen, it would have to happen pretty quickly.”



Wood was instrumental in landing the Portland Pirates, an American Hockey League franchise that relocated from Baltimore to Portland in 1993. He is executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland and former head of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In May, owner Ron Cain sold the Pirates to a group that moved the franchise to Springfield, Massachusetts. The Pirates’ departure leaves Cross Insurance Arena without a major tenant and downtown restaurants and pubs without 38 winter dates to draw hockey fans.

Brad Church, a former Pirates player who was chief operating officer under Cain, soon joined forces with Wood in hopes of bringing an ECHL team to Portland in time for the 2017-18 season.

Wood said he remains optimistic that will happen, although the expansion route seems increasingly unlikely. “I think it’s more likely we will try to buy an existing franchise,” he said Tuesday. “We’re in conversations with a number of potential investors. There is nothing definitive yet, but several people are looking hard at the situation.”

Neither Wood nor Church plan to be part of any investment group, although Church hopes to be an executive with the new team.

Wood said four potential investors have expressed interest in being sole or majority owner.


“There are others who have expressed interest in being minority owners,” he said, “depending on who the majority owner is and what the deal looks like.”


The ECHL has 27 active franchises. Two of those won’t play in the upcoming season, scheduled to begin Oct. 14.

One is the Worcester (Mass.) Railers, an expansion team approved in February and set to begin play in 2017.

The other is the former Evansville (Indiana) IceMen. In January, the franchise announced a move to Owensboro, Kentucky, but opted to “go dark” for the upcoming season in order to address arena issues. Last month, Owensboro city officials opted against building a new arena, a decision that may lead owner Ron Geary to consider selling the franchise if renovating the 66-year-old Owensboro Sportscenter proves untenable.

Initially, Wood said he thought buying an existing franchise would be cheaper than paying the expansion fee. Last month, he said the ECHL is considering a “transfer tax” that would equalize the price of an existing team and an expansion team.


On Tuesday, both Wood and Babik declined to discuss such details.

The AHL is considered the top tier of minor-league hockey, with the ECHL a rung below. Unlike the AHL, teams in the ECHL don’t pay affiliation fees, which cost the Pirates $800,000 per year to the NHL Florida Panthers, who supplied players and staff.

A lower cost structure in the ECHL includes a weekly salary cap that stood at $12,500 last season and would allow for lower ticket prices. General admission prices, Wood told the Portland Press Herald last month, could be less than half the $18 charged last season by the Pirates.

Any successful deal to bring pro hockey back to Portland must include a new lease agreement with the Cross Insurance Arena board of trustees.

“We have been in touch with them fairly regularly,” board member Neal Pratt said of Wood and Church. “We’ve sort of primed the pump with them from a conceptual standpoint. Now it’s waiting for a more concrete proposal from them.”



Pratt said the board would not agree to any new lease before meeting with the ownership group.

“When the time comes where they’re at that point,” he said, “we would certainly want to meet with the principals and understand what and who and how.”

The trustees and the Pirates were about $45,000 apart on terms for a new lease when the team abruptly announced it was leaving. The Pirates said they were losing half a million dollars a year and needed relief in the existing lease – signed through April 2019 – to keep the team in Portland.

The North division for the upcoming ECHL season consists of teams in Glens Falls and Elmira, New York; Brampton, Ontario; Wheeling, West Virginia; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Reading, Pennsylvania.

“It’s just a matter of putting the right people together at this point,” said Wood, who expressed optimism about securing a team in time for the 2017-18 season. “We don’t want to go longer than that.”


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