Seven months have passed since Godfrey Wood and Brad Church announced an effort to bring a minor league hockey franchise to the Cross Insurance Arena in the wake of the Portland Pirates’ departure last spring.

Their first hope was to land an ECHL expansion franchise within a month. When that didn’t happen, they considered buying an existing franchise and moving it. That didn’t happen, either.

Now, with just over a month before the ECHL Board of Governors is scheduled to meet Jan. 18 in Glens Falls, New York, time is running short to avoid a second winter without pro hockey in downtown Portland.

Joe Babik, spokesman for the ECHL, said Thursday that he has not received an application for a franchise in Portland and would need one “probably within the next week or 10 days” in order for it to be considered at the league’s meeting in January.

Church, a former player for the Pirates and the team’s chief operating officer during its final two seasons, said finding suitable investors willing to bankroll a franchise has been a challenge.

“We’ve had some people who have been interested, who have looked into it,” he said, “but it just never got across the finish line.”


Wood, general manager and president of the American Hockey League’s Pirates for three seasons in the 1990s, is saying very little.

“There’s nothing to announce,” he said. “I am not in a position to tell you whether or not we have applied for a franchise.”

When asked if he remains optimistic about professional hockey returning to Portland, Wood said “absolutely.” When asked specifically about next winter, he declined to comment.

Because the ECHL’s 2017-18 schedule comes out in April, any new applicant would have to be considered and approved at the ECHL’s January meeting, Church said. Any application would identify the ownership group and include a business plan and a lease and allow time for the league to conduct necessary background checks.

“Obviously, it fits our footprint,” Babik said of a franchise in Portland. “It’s definitely an area we would be interested in.”

Neal Pratt, chair of the strategic planning committee of the Cross Insurance Arena board of trustees, said he has been in regular contact with Wood, but as of Thursday had not received any specific lease proposal.


“Generally, with any investor group, we would need to know who the proposed owners are,” Pratt said. “We would need to understand the proposal in great detail and we would need time to negotiate lease terms.”

That last point, Pratt said, should not be difficult, given the board’s recent history with the Pirates and knowledge of what terms are likely to produce a break-even deal for the Cumberland County-owned facility.

“We could move quickly if it becomes necessary to do so,” Pratt said. “How quickly is difficult to say.”

The ECHL – originally formed as the East Coast Hockey League but now stretching to 21 states and one Canadian province – is considered the third tier of professional hockey in North America, below the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League. It has 27 teams with a 28th, the Worcester (Massachusetts) Railers, on track to begin play in 2017-18. There are affiliation agreements with 26 of the 30 NHL teams.

Phil Willett of Windsor, a season-ticket holder with the Portland Pirates for eight years, said he misses watching professional hockey in person.

Willett, 26, plans to attend an AHL game in February in Albany, New York, where the Devils will host the Springfield Falcons, the franchise purchased from former Pirates owner Ron Cain and moved to Massachusetts in May.

He keeps in touch through Facebook with other diehard Pirates fans, many of whom look forward to the return of pro hockey to Portland.

“I’m just hoping sooner rather than later,” Willett said. “I’ve been trying not to follow it because I don’t want to get my hopes up and then be disappointed when they don’t get a team.”


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