For the first time in franchise history, the Maine Mariners will take the ice as a playoff team when they begin a best-of-seven series at Reading on Wednesday night. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Maine Mariners hockey team has been in playoff mode for weeks.

“We’ve been talking, ‘Our playoffs start now,’ for the last 22 games,” said Ben Guite, the Mariners’ first-year coach. “We wanted to put into perspective what our intention was. It wasn’t just to finish a season. It was to make the playoffs.”

And, by winning its last three games, the four-year-old franchise made the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Playoffs for the first time, edging Worcester for the fourth and final slot in the North Division by .014 percentage points.

The Mariners, who finished the season 33-31-5-3 (wins, losses, overtime losses, shootout losses), open a best-of-seven series at North Division regular-season champion Reading Royals (45-17-7-2) on Wednesday. Game 2 is at Santander Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania, on Friday.

Mariners center Nick Master (10): “We’ve been playing meaningful hockey for the last month or two. We’ve been in a playoff race … and I think that will pay dividends for us.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“One thing that is pretty important for us, too, is that we’ve been playing meaningful hockey for the last month or two,” said center Nick Master, the Mariners’ second-leading scorer with 16 goals and 37 assists. “We’ve been in a playoff race with Worcester and (third-place Trois-Rivières) and I think that will pay dividends for us.”

The series shifts to Cross Insurance Arena in Portland for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) on April 28-30. If needed, Games 6 and 7 will be in Reading on May 2 and May 4. Four teams in each of the ECHL’s four divisions qualified for the playoffs.


Maine split its regular-season series with Reading. Each team went 3-0 on its home ice.

“Any time you’re the lower seed you’re going to have to find a way to steal a game on the road,” Guite said. “Both teams do play extremely well on their home ice. We’ve got the mindset that we’re going to go down there and win every game.”

The clubs played four times in April as the season wound down. The Mariners’ playoff chances looked dim when they lost three straight at Reading, from April 8-10, the third game a 2-1 overtime setback.

With three home games remaining, the Mariners were still alive but needed wins. They had to face Reading and then finish with two games against second-place Newfoundland.

“We just went with the ‘believe’ mantra,” Guite said. “We had talked to the guys and said, yeah, we had lost three to Reading but we had played well and we thought at least two of the three we could have won. We were 2-0 against Reading at home. We explained to them all the reasons we should feel confident and they bought into it and got the job done.”

Maine beat the Royals 6-2 on April 13, then finished beating Newfoundland 2-1 in overtime and 4-3 in a shootout last weekend.


Master didn’t get to see the end of the regular season. He was in the Mariners’ locker room getting 11 stitches in his bottom lip to close a cut caused by a high stick.

“But I could hear how loud it was. It was good to hear that excitement,” said Master.

For Master, the playoff wait has been a long one. He signed with Maine right after finishing a four-year college career at UMass Lowell and appeared in eight games at the end of the Mariners’ inaugural 2018-19 season when Maine coughed up a playoff spot by losing 6 of 7 games down the stretch.

In 2019-20, Maine appeared headed to the playoffs. Master, who had broken his wrist in the sixth game of the season, was preparing to return to help with the final push.

“But, as you know, the pandemic happened,” Master said.

The ECHL, like all other pro sports’ leagues, shut down its season.


While many ECHL teams did play in 2020-21, Maine, as well as the rest of the North Division teams, did not.

This season’s strong finish has the team playing with extra confidence, said Cam Askew, a forward in his fourth ECHL season.

“This is the best time of the year, the funnest time of the year to play,” Askew said. “I mean, this is why we play those 72 games. All you need is a chance in the playoffs and we’ve worked hard to get that.”

Askew led the Mariners in games played, appearing in 69 games and is second on the team with 23 goals.

Maine was the only team in the North Division to complete its full 72-game season. It wasn’t easy. The coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc with rosters. Maine is an affiliate of the Boston Bruins and their AHL franchise in Providence.

“I remember we were in Trois-Rivières (on Dec. 17) and we won in a shootout with 13 players,” Guite said. “It was a sellout and it was almost us versus the world. We had four (COVID) cases that popped up positive and the teams in the American (Hockey) League had been depleted so they were calling guys up left and right and we find a way to stick together.”

“That was sort of a rallying point to the season,” Askew said.

Prior to Christmas, Maine won just eight of 23 games. Since then, the Mariners have won 25 of 49.

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