Portland to join ECHL in 2018

The ECHL announced Thursday that Portland, Maine will join the league in the 2018-19 season.

The decision was made at the ECHL’s annual summer meeting, which is taking place this week in Las Vegas. Other league announcements, such as the upcoming season’s divisional alignment, will also be made in the coming days.

Portland’s addition gives the ECHL 28 active franchises and a third in New England. Manchester, N.H. joined the league in 2015, while Worcester, Mass. will ice its first team this year. All three are former American Hockey League markets.

“We are excited to bring ECHL hockey to Portland,” ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said in a statement. “The city has a long and rich hockey tradition. In addition, Comcast Spectacor has a history in the market and is an ideal partner to reintroduce professional hockey to Southern Maine.”

Portland has a pro hockey tradition dating back to 1977. The Maine Mariners played in the AHL through 1992, and then after a year hiatus, the team was replaced by the Portland Pirates, which played in the Maine city from 1993-2016. The Pirates were purchased and moved to Springfield, Mass. to replace an AHL team that moved west to Arizona last summer, leaving Portland without a pro hockey team.

The yet-to-be-named team will be owned by Comcast Spectacor, which also owns the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. According to the Portland Press-Herald, the Flyers will run day-to-day operations with former Flyers player Daniel Briere in charge. The Flyers are currently affiliated with the ECHL’s Reading Royals and AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Flyers have a past in Portland – they were the Maine Mariners’ parent club from 1977-83, a time in which Indiana native Mike “Doc” Emrick spent one season as the Mariners’ play-by-play announcer before being called up to the NHL team.

The team will play in the 6,733-seat Cross Insurance Arena in downtown Portland. It will become the third minor pro team to play in the city, which also has the NBA D-League’s Maine Red Claws and the Double-A baseball Eastern League’s Portland Sea Dogs.

Portland is a city of approximately 66,000 residents, with a metro area population of more than 500,000. It is 115 miles north of Boston and will have two close New England rivalries in the ECHL, as Manchester is 95 miles away and Worcester is 140.

The Portland franchise is the one that formerly belonged to the Alaska Aces. The Aces suspended operations this spring, citing financial losses, after 14 seasons in the ECHL and 22 seasons in pro hockey.