The Maine Mariners will begin play in the ECHL this fall as an affiliate of the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers.

Portland’s new minor league professional hockey team made the announcement Monday.

“It’s a classy organization,” said Danny Briere, vice president of hockey operations for the Mariners, who are scheduled to take the ice at Cross Insurance Arena in October. “We’re excited to be a part of the Rangers, a team that’s also in the Northeast.”

The Rangers’ top affiliate is the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League. The ECHL is a rung below the AHL on the minor-league ladder.

The Rangers will supply some but not all of the players on the Mariners’ roster. In February, the Mariners announced Riley Armstrong as their coach.

“It should be a competitive team,” Briere said, “now that we have a good coach and a good organization.”

Briere declined to reveal the length of the affiliation agreement, saying, “we’re hoping it’s going to work for both (sides) and it’s going to be for many years to come.”

For the past eight seasons, the Rangers’ ECHL affiliate was the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of South Carolina. The Swamp Rabbits finished last of 13 teams in the Eastern Conference this winter with a 24-48 record. During their affiliation, three players who started with Greenville rose to the Rangers after a stop in Hartford: goaltenders Brandon Halverson, Mackenzie Skapski and Cam Talbot.

How many players the Rangers will provide has yet to be determined, and may depend on injuries in training camp.

“We’d love to have 12,” Briere said, “but is it realistic? Probably not. Hopefully eight but it’s tough to put a number on it at this point.”

Briere said he and Armstrong will be in close contact with coaches, scouts and others in player development for the Rangers, including New York assistant general manager Chris Drury, with whom Briere initiated talks. Drury and Briere played together for Buffalo and served as co-captains of the Sabres from 2005-07.

In a prepared statement, Drury, who also serves as GM for the Wolf Pack, said, “The New York Rangers are pleased to begin our partnership with the Maine Mariners. We look forward to starting a new chapter of professional hockey in our organization and are excited to join with the Mariners as they embark on their first season in the ECHL in 2018-19.”

The Mariners can begin signing free agents in mid-June.

“We’re going to be looking at guys coming out of juniors who still want to play, looking at college players who want a shot at playing (pro) hockey but haven’t been drafted or had an NHL offer,” Briere said. “Those are the players we’re going to target.”

The Rangers are four-time Stanley Cup champions who fired Coach Alain Vigneault Saturday after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Briere said he spoke with several organizations about possible affiliation agreements but the Rangers quickly emerged as a front-runner.

“The Rangers definitely showed the most interest,” Briere said. “So talks were serious from the get-go. They seemed genuinely excited about having a team close to Hartford and getting involved with our organization.”

In the 2017-18 season, the ECHL had affiliations with 26 of the 31 NHL teams. Only the Norfolk (Virginia) Admirals remained independent.

The Mariners will play their first season in a realigned North Division that will include fellow newcomer St. John’s of Newfoundland (Maple Leafs) along with the Adirondack Thunder (Devils), Brampton Beast (Canadiens), Manchester Monarchs (Kings), Reading Royals (Flyers) and Worcester Railers (Islanders).

The Mariners also plan to hold a second Town Hall-style meeting with fans on May 9 at Cross Insurance Arena.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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