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Pirates celebrate 30 years of pro hockey in Portland

By Jim Mancuso || AHL On The Beat Archive

The 2006-07 season marks the 30th anniversary of the first season of professional hockey in Portland, Maine. Professional hockey in Portland was born in 1977-78 when the Maine Mariners became members of the American Hockey League (AHL). The Philadelphia Flyers were the Mariners’ first NHL affiliation.

The Mariners are the only franchise in league history to win the Calder Cup title in their first two seasons (1977-78, 1978-79) and are just the second team ever to capture the Calder Cup during their inaugural season.

Rookie goaltender Pelle Lindbergh helped Maine return to the Calder Cup finals in 1980-81 and became the only goaltender in AHL history and just the third player ever to win the AHL regular season MVP and AHL outstanding rookie award in the same season. Bob McCammon annexed his second AHL coach of the year award.

In 1983-1984, Maine became only the fourth team in AHL history to win a Calder Cup title with a losing regular season record. The Mariners defeated the Rochester Americans in a rematch of the previous year’s finals four games to one. Bud Stefanski was the inaugural recipient of the new AHL playoff MVP award. It was the local’s third Calder Cup crown and their fifth finals appearance in seven years. Maine’s banner year was truly a team effort as no members of the club made the all-star team, won a league award during the regular season, or placed in the regular season top ten in scoring.

The 1991-1992 campaign was the final one for the Maine Mariners. Hockey returned in 1993-1994. The new club was the top affiliate of the Washington Capitals. In its historic postseason, Portland beat the Moncton Hawks four games to two for the Calder Cup championship. Kolzig was chosen as the AHL playoff MVP.

The Pirates appeared to have a good chance to repeat as Calder Cup champions in 1994-1995. AHL all-star Jim Carey had a spectacular year in goal winning the AHL outstanding goaltender award and the AHL outstanding rookie award.

Portland made it back to the Calder Cup finals in 1995-1996 despite having a losing regular season record. The Rochester Americans, however, spoiled the Pirates’ “Cinderella season” in the finals in a seven-game thriller.

Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier became Portland’s coach in 1997-1998 and the club clinched a postseason berth.

Martin Brochu was the story of the 1999-2000 campaign, earning the AHL regular season MVP and the AHL outstanding goaltender award, and a selection to the AHL all-star team. Glen Hanlon was chosen as AHL coach of the year after leading his team back to the postseason. Portland, however, was upset in the conference quarterfinals.

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks formed a five-year working agreement with Portland beginning in 2005-2006. New coach Kevin Dineen won AHL coach of the year honors an the Pirates were an overtime goal away from their third trip to the Calder Cup finals. After progressing through the first two rounds of the postseason, the Pirates lost a heartbreaker in overtime of game seven of the conference finals.

Kent Hulst is the Pirates’ all-time leader in points (360), goals (147), and games played (473), while Andrew Brunette is the team’s all-time leader in assists (224). Between the pipes, Maxime Ouellet has the best career GAA (2.40) and most shutouts (17) in franchise history, and Martin Brochu earned the most wins (79) and played the most games in goal (171).

The 30th anniversary season of the birth of professional hockey in Portland is sure to be a memorable one. The Pirates return to the ice in 2006-2007 ready to build on one of the most successful seasons in team history. The Pirates have provided area fans with a high caliber of hockey over the years and have established themselves as one of the top sporting attractions in Portland as well as the state of Maine. Portland truly has one of the richest traditions in hockey history.