Sean Day of the Maine Mariners controls the puck ahead of Regan Nagy of Jacksonville during a game on Jan. 3, 2020. The Mariner announced on Wednesday they are now the ECHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When the Maine Mariners open their third season of minor-league hockey in October, they will do so as an affiliate of the Boston Bruins.

The Mariners confirmed the long-rumored partnership, first reported Tuesday by the Press Herald, on Wednesday morning at Cross Insurance Arena. After two seasons as the ECHL affiliate of the New York Rangers, the Mariners reached a three-year agreement with the Bruins, whose ECHL farm club had been the Atlanta Gladiators since 2015.

“Our goal is to be with the Bruins for many years to come,” said Danny Briere, president and governor of the Mariners, “but we’re starting with three years.”

Briere spoke at a press conference inside the arena, where the Mariners are scheduled to open their 2021-22 season on Oct. 22. They have not played since March 10, 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The resulting turmoil in the world of professional hockey, with some mostly southern ECHL teams opting to play and others not, is what gave rise to the opportunity for another Portland-Boston partnership. While the Gladiators were on hiatus this winter, the Bruins sent a few of their prospects to the Jacksonville Icemen.

The original Maine Mariners were the American Hockey League affiliate of the Bruins between 1987 and 1992, and their alumni include current Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney as well as Andy Brickley, color commentator for Bruins telecasts on NESN.

“The Bruins and Maine Mariners have a long player development history, as well as having a passionate fan base in Portland and throughout the state of Maine,” Sweeney said in a statement released by the Mariners. “We are looking forward to building a strong working relationship with Comcast Spectacor, Daniel Briere, and the coaching staff of the Mariners.”

Comcast Spectacor owns the Mariners franchise, as well as the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, and its subsidiary operates Cross Insurance Arena. The company bought a dormant ECHL franchise in Alaska and moved it to Maine because the rink had been without a tenant since the AHL’s Portland Pirates were sold in 2016 and relocated to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Briere thanked the Rangers for “believing in us through their partnership over the last several years and helping us get started here in Maine.”

He said the breakup was made more difficult because of his close relationship with Chris Drury, New York’s president and general manager. Drury and Briere are friends and former teammates who served as co-captains while playing for the Buffalo Sabres.

“It was a tough discussion,” Briere said, “but I also didn’t want to leave him stuck without an affiliation, without having time to prepare.”

On Tuesday, Jacksonville announced a new partnership with the Rangers, replacing the Winnipeg Jets.

The Mariners new deal means that Portland is now home to three farm clubs of Boston-based sports teams. The Sea Dogs are Double-A baseball partners with the Red Sox and the newly-renamed Maine Celtics are NBA G League basketball partners with the Boston Celtics.

The team presidents of the other two Portland franchises welcomed news of the Mariners-Bruins partnership. Dajuan Eubanks of the Maine Celtics called it great news for the city.

“We know how many diehard Boston fans there are in Maine,” he said. “We also know how much fun it is to have your parent affiliate be right down the road and a major part of your fan base.”

Geoff Iacuessa of the Sea Dogs said the Mariners completed a Portland-Boston hat trick.

“Those are three storied franchises,” Iacuessa said of the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins. “So this says a lot about our community and about our state to have all three of those affiliates in Portland.”

Beyond simple geography, Briere said most Mariners fans have grown up rooting for the Bruins.

“So hockey fans here in Maine will be able to cheer on the Mariners and catch a glimpse of the players who might end up wearing the gold and black eventually,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Of course, Tacko Fall or Tremont Waters may be playing at the Expo for the Maine Celtics one night and TD Garden the next, or Andrew Benintendi or Darwinzon Hernandez may have jumped from Hadlock Field to Fenway. Climbing the ladder in professional hockey is different. Any Mariners who earn promotion likely will head to Providence of the American Hockey League.

No Rangers prospect who started his pro career with the Mariners has reached beyond the AHL.

“We’re still waiting for that one guy to push through and break that barrier for us,” said Riley Armstrong, the Mariners head coach who recently added the title of assistant general manager.  “We’ve definitely put a ton (of players) into the American Hockey League already in two years.”

Armstrong said he is committed to retaining as many of the fan-favorite Mariners as he can. The team retains the ECHL contractual rights to anyone who was on the roster when play was suspended in March of 2020.

The earliest date he can sign a player for the upcoming season is July 9. He said he has spoken with players such as Alex Kile, Dillan Fox, Greg Chase and Conner Bleackley about returning.

“There’s going to be some changes in the roster with those type of guys,” he said, “but I do believe in bringing that core back.”

He’s also hoping the new affiliation leads to a bump in attendance in Portland, where crowds averaged 2,685 in the Mariners’ second season and 2,998 in their first.

“I always heard from people in Portland saying ‘You should have seen this place with 6,000 people in here’,” Armstrong said. “It gives me chills just thinking about how loud this rink can be, and for the players who want to play in front of that. So it’s an exciting day for the business side of it, but for the hockey side as well.”

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