The Portland Pirates hockey team and other squads in the American Hockey League are looking to get more attention this season as a contract dispute in the nation's top hockey league continues.
Jeff Mannix, announcer for the team, told WCSH6 that the continued lockout in the National Hockey League will bring more talent and attention to the AHL, where players like Oliver Ekman-Larsen, a 21-year-old defenseman who played in the NHL last year for the Phoenix Coyotes, are now turning their attention.
Ekman-Larsen will take the ice for the Pirates this season, which starts with a home game in Lewiston on Oct. 19 while work continues on renovations for the Cumberland County Civic Center.
On Nov. 2, the Pirates will hold their first game in the civic center as the first phase of renovations continues. The exterior of the Civic Center's Free Street entrance will be under construction during that time, a process that Steve Crane, the civic center's general manager, said will allow construction to continue alongside sports events.
"We have a ton of confidence in the contractors and the architects and they understand what we need to operate," Crane told Mainebiz. "They're working the first phase of the renovation outside, as opposed to the next huge phase, which is the inside work."
The AHL is just one option for players jilted by the NHL lockout, with players like Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask opting to play in the Czech Republic as of Monday.
Brian Petrovek, CEO and managing partner of the Pirates, told the Press Herald earlier this month that the lockout is not ideal but will bring some new skill to the team.
"Obviously, we'd much rather be in a position where our NHL club is about to open its camp, its early (training) sessions," Petrovek said. "But when you look at the group of athletes we're going to be getting, it does raise the bar in terms of expectations and excitement."
During the last NHL lockout in 2004, the Press Herald reported, AHL attendance topped 7 million for the first time, a jump of 6.5% from the previous year.