Maine Hockey Journal

Pirates leaving Maine for Springfield, Mass.

After 23 seasons, the Portland Pirates are leaving Maine.

According to various sources in Maine and Springfield, Massachusetts, the Pirates have been sold to an outside ownership group and will be relocated to the Springfield for the 2016-17 season.

Mitch Berkowitz, chairman of the board of trustees for the Cumberland County-owned Cross Insurance Arena, confirmed via phone late Wednesday afternoon that in fact “the Pirates are moving to Springfield.”

He added that he did not have any other details other than there had been a change of ownership.

The trustees have scheduled a meeting in executive session Thursday morning to gather further information and discuss details of the pending transaction.

The city of Springfield has been looking for a replacement to play at the city-owned MassMutual Center after ownership for the previous tenant, Springfield Falcons, signed a purchase agreement with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes on April 19 with the intent of relocating the franchise to Tucson, Arizona for next season.

“I have been informed that a broad-based local investor group has signed a letter of intent to purchase the Portland Pirates of the AHL,” said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno in a press release Wednesday afternoon. “While we understand there are still some hurdles to overcome, we are encouraged by this news and hopeful that professional hockey will be back in Springfield this upcoming season. I look forward to sharing more information on this announcement in the very near future. I am very thankful to the broad-based local investor group for once again stepping up for our Springfield.”

When Brad Church, the Pirates’ chief operating officer, was reached by phone Wednesday afternoon he said a “letter of intent has been signed with an outside buyer to purchase the franchise and relocate to the another city for next season” but that he did not have any further details.

The Pirates signed a five-year lease agreement to play at the Cross Insurance Arena, beginning with the 2014-15 season. At the same time, the team just completed its first year as the affiliate of the Florida Panthers.

There was little knowledge about any potential sale from team employees as they were informed of news late Wednesday afternoon. The team’s Twitter account has been shut down.

The team can break its lease with the trustees by buying out the remainder of its lease for $100,000.

The franchise has been in Portland since Tom and Joyce Ebright announced they were relocating the franchise from Baltimore, Maryland in May 1992. The team would go on to win the Calder Cup in 1993-94, its inaugural season at the Cumberland County Civic Center, now the Cross Insurance Arena. After Tom Ebright passed away in 1997 from heart failure, David Fisher and Shawnee Peak CEO, Chet Horner, purchased the team. In 2000, Fisher and Horner sold the team to an investment group led by Brian Petrovek and Lyman Bullard. They would own the franchise for the next 15 years until Ron Cain assumed majority ownership in December 2013 after a lengthy and protracted lease dispute with county trustees.

Cain is Chairman and CEO of Legacy Holding Co., a third-party logistics company based in Portsmouth, NH, who made his money as a self-made entrepreneur. He’s been involved in the sport of hockey for much of his life. He owned the Portland Junior Pirates and OA Sports Center, formerly known as MHG Ice Centre, in Saco until selling it in 2015. Cain was also instrumental in the creation of the USPHL, a top tier USA Hockey junior league.

Cain was not available for comment.

The Pirates have had five affiliations over the last two decades. The Washington Capitals were affiliated with the Pirates for the franchise’s first 13 seasons from 1993 until 2005. When the Capitals left for Hershey, PA, the Anaheim Ducks moved its affiliation to Portland for three years (2005-2008) followed by the Buffalo Sabres until 2011 when the Arizona Coyotes moved their prospects to Portland. The Coyotes left last season for Springfield as the Florida Panthers moved its affiliate from San Antonio to Portland.

The Panthers issued a statement from Executive Chairman Peter Luukko Wednesday evening on Pirates move to Springfield.

“I was informed by Portland CEO Ron Cain today that he has signed a letter of intent to sell the Pirates pending league approval,” Luukko said in a written statement. “We will be in contact with the American Hockey League regarding the sale process. In the meantime, Florida will begin exploring all our options to put our players in the very best developmental situation. We have enjoyed the city of Portland, the venue and the incredible fan support.”

The story will be updated.

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