By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277
RinkSideRhodeIsland.com writer and New England Hockey Journal contributor Mark Divver sent out a tweet over the 2021 Memorial Day weekend about the National Hockey Leagues Boston Bruins very interested in an ECHL minor-pro affiliation in Portland, Maine. The Bruins do not have an “official” affiliation agreement with the Jacksonville Icemen this season but do have some type of handshake deal as Boston prospects have been placed there with names such as defenseman Jack Ahcan, forward Matt Filipe, and goaltender Kyle Keyser. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit hard in mid-March of 2020 and forced the cancellations of the remaining regular-season games and Kelly Cup Playoffs, it was also the end of the affiliation the NHL Bruins organization had with the Atlanta Gladiators who both had a great relationship in the past.
This season the Atlanta Gladiators opted out of 2020/21 ECHL participation citing overhead costs could not be operable with the state of Georgia’s 25 percent Covid restrictions. Closing down shop for a full season actually saved the Atlanta franchise money but also left the Boston Bruins in limbo for a place to house their younger talent and American Hockey League Providence Bruins player that needed to go down for continued work and ice time. Per Divvers Tweet above, it sounds like a move closer to the Rhode Island state has been a work in progress, and it makes total sense. One, you create an easier traveling distance for the countless call ups and reassignments of a minor-pro hockey player’s life, and two, it could pay huge dividends to a potential landing spot like Portland, Maine, and that thriving city with a hockey team tied to the close by Boston Bruins.
The Boston Bruins organization has a history with the coastal Maine city as the NHL club would spend a better part of five seasons in the vacationland before leaving south for Providence, Rhode Island prior to the 1992-93 campaign. Some names Bruins fans might remember who spent some time with the AHL affiliate in Maine were Bob Beers, Ken Hodge Jr., Dave Reid, Don Sweeney, and Wes Walz.
No doubt the travel issue for immediate call-ups will get addressed, but it also sounds to me that the Bruins would like to make better use of and ECHL affiliation. Maybe the NHL Bruins would like to have several members of their prospects at that level while having a heavy dose of AHL only contracted players as well available in case of emergency as Portland to Providence is about three hours instead of the long drive that many minor-pro players have done in the past from southern states to the New England area. I still believe a significant media member who slid into my Twitter DM’s and told me that some NHL executives had expressed an increase in contracted players per organization which is at 50 right now under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.
I’m hearing there’s interest in increasing that number to ten and better take advantage of college and Canadian Junior free agents for talent that has slipped under the radar in recent drafts, much like the steals the Providence scouting team saw in defenseman Brady Lyle out of the OHL, forwards Samuel Asselin and Alex-Olivier Voyer from the QMJHL or current pro blueliner Conor Clifton. For short-term looks and increased advancement with affiliated locations geographically close by, it’s honestly a no-brainer and can model the minor-pro level of success climbing the levels like what’s currently working in Major League Baseball. Low-risk high reward scenarios and scouting these players from the AHL to the ECHL is also a huge asset as organizations constantly have plans in place for future success and NHL arrival timelines.
The Cross Insurance Arena, located in downtown Portland, Maine, seats an average of 6,200 seats for hockey events, and over the years, the city has really grown in popularity with its increased infrastructure and top-notch placed to visit and eat and drink. The City of Portland has a long history with minor-pro hockey as the Maine Mariners who were AHL affiliated in the past with NHL teams like the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, and the Philadelphia Flyers to most recently the area his home to the ECHL Mariners who are under the NHL’s New York Rangers operations.
I reached out to thesinbin.net website Editor-In-Chief Matthew Harding (@SinBinThunder on Twitter) the other day gathering information about this topic, and he graciously returned my question by letting me know that the ECHL teams and the NHL affiliations around the league generally run in two-year increments. The Maine Mariners agreement with the New York Rangers started before the 2018-18 campaign, so when the 2019-20 regular season came to a closer due to the pandemic, it was technically the last of their current deal. In the 2020-21 season, the team from Portland took the ECHL option and suspended operations until this October, when the league gets back up and running. With the Mariners technically not affiliated with anyone is a good avenue to think something’s up with both clubs as previous reports.