Before the Maine Mariners ever took to the ice in October, it wasn’t difficult to examine their inaugural schedule and identify the biggest potential pitfall.

The last half of February looked brutal.

As it happens, however, two weeks on the road proved to be the perfect remedy for an expansion hockey team that was languishing in the ECHL basement. A 3-1 victory over the Norfolk Admirals at Cross Insurance Arena Wednesday night marked the 10th victory in 12 games for the Mariners, who moved into sole possession of third place in the North Division, only three points behind second-place Adirondack.

Heading into a Sunday matinee on Feb. 10, Maine had lost seven of eight games and had been blown out at home the previous two evenings by a combined scored of 16-3. A 4-1 victory over Wheeling stopped the bleeding, and the Mariners have been on fire ever since.

“After we went on that skid,” said goalie Connor LaCouvee, “the central emphasis was on playoffs and how exciting it would be for an expansion team – especially in Portland with a great hockey fan base and real excitement for hockey – how cool that would be. It’s good motivation.”

LaCouvee made 39 saves Wednesday night and did not allow a goal until late in the third period, after the Mariners had built a 3-0 lead. Since returning from the American Hockey League, and assuming the starting goaltender’s job from Brandon Halverson, who was called up to Hartford of the AHL, LaCouvee has been a steadying presence.

“He’s our rock,” said Mariners Coach Riley Armstrong. “When you have a good goalie, you have a good team. It’s simple.”

Forward Greg Chase, fresh off being named ECHL Player of the Month for February, figured in every Mariners goal Wednesday. He assisted on two, scored one and hit the post on an empty-net attempt in the final minute of play.

John Furgele gave Maine a 1-0 lead in the first. A breakout pass stolen by Michael McNicholas set up the second goal, with Taylor Cammarata feeding Chase on the doorstep in the second. Cammarata added a wraparound goal early in the third during a delayed penalty on Norfolk.

“Those games on the losing streak, we were never really out of them,” Chase said. “It was a couple bad bounces here and there. Now, we’ve been getting the good bounces, but we’ve also been working for the bounces, too. We’ve been playing to our system, how the coach wants us to play, and when we play like that, good things happen.”

The Mariners spent so much of February on the road because Cross Insurance Arena was hosting high school basketball tournament action. The team traveled to Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and New Hampshire, returned to Maine long enough to play a Sunday matinee, then flew to Utah, where it earned five points in three games against the Grizzlies.

In between games at Norfolk and Reading, the Mariners visited Philadelphia, home to their NHL parent club, worked out in the Flyers’ practice facility just over the border in New Jersey, watched a Flyers game from a luxury suite and hobnobbed with Philly’s ballyhooed mascot, Gritty.

“I really felt that road trip was make or break,” Armstrong said. “We’ve set ourselves up in a pretty good spot now.”

The Mariners play again Friday night (with the Stanley Cup present) and Saturday night (in their Maine Wild Blueberries jerseys).

“We achieved what we wanted to on the road, to get back in the playoff race,” Chase said, “and now we’re in third place and we’re looking nothing but forward.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH


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