Forward Michael McNicholas is one of five players who have re-signed with the Maine Mariners for the 2019-20 season. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Maine Mariners announced the signing of five returning players Monday, marking the first step toward building their roster for the 2019-20 season. The team opens its second season in Portland on Oct. 11 at Cross Insurance Arena against the Adirondack Thunder.

Forwards Michael McNicholas, Terrence Wallin, and Dillan Fox will return to the Mariners, along with defensemen Derek Pratt and Josh Couturier.

In their inaugural season in the ECHL, the Mainers posted a 37-32-2-1 record, finishing sixth of seven teams in the Eastern Conference’s North division. They were the only team in the league with a winning record not to make the postseason.

“The players that are re-signing with us are very excited to be coming back for year two,” said Coach Riley Armstrong at a media conference at CIA. “(It was) a great experience last year, creating that hockey buzz back in the city of Portland.”

Portland had been without a hockey team since the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates left for Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2016.

“(The fan base) was really good,” said McNicholas of the Mariners’ first season in Portland. “(For) a lot of our games, the place was pretty packed, especially the Saturday night and Friday night games. It made it a lot easier when you have a lot of people show up to your games.”

All five players have opted to live and train in Portland during the offseason, said Armstrong.

“In my past, you’re usually dying to get out and get home to see your buddies. For these five guys to want to stay local and put their roots here is important,” said Armstrong.

“It was a no-brainer to stay (in Portland), with how much I like the city,” said Pratt, who played 63 games for the Mariners as a rookie last season.

The returning players will lend some stability to what was a fluid roster last winter. ECHL teams can carry 20 players on their roster (21 in the first month of the season). A total of 57 players played for the Mainers in 2018-19.

The Mariners share players’ rights with their affiliates, the New York Rangers in the NHL and the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL.

“I think these mainstays can become fan favorites, just local guys around the community for a couple more years,” said Armstrong. “Bringing in that core in is the right mark (to) make.

Returning players earn a minimum salary of $510 per week during the season, according to ECHL.

McNicholas, a 25-year-old forward, had a breakout rookie season with the Mariners. He appeared in 65 games, the most of any player on the Mainers’ roster, and led the team in assists (40) and points (53) while scoring 13 goals. His 40 assists were the fourth most among all ECHL rookies.

Fox scored 16 goals in 37 games for the Mariners, placing him second on the team’s leading scorers list.

Wallin posted 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 41 games for Portland while serving as the team’s alternate captain.

The Mariners will need McNicholas, Fox and, Wallin’s offensive production after their leading scorer, Greg Chase, signed a contract with the Wolf Pack this spring. The Mariners retain rights to Chase, should he be sent down to the ECHL.

Couturier, who suited up for 19 games with the Mariners, will join Pratt as the heart of the Mariners’ defense.


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