Professional hockey will return to Portland for the 2018-19 season.
Comcast Spectacor, the parent company of the Philadelphia Flyers, announced Thursday the purchase of an ECHL franchise in Alaska that will be relocated to Cross Insurance Arena.
Comcast Spectacor is also the parent company of Spectra, the management firm contracted to run the arena, which has been without a major tenant since the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League were sold in May 2016 and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts.
The ECHL, formed in 1988 as the East Coast Hockey League, is considered the third tier of pro hockey in North America, with a talent level below that of the National Hockey League and the AHL. There are 27 franchises scheduled to play next winter. The Alaska Aces announced in late February they would cease operations after the 2016-17 season because of years of decling revenue.
The team’s relocation to Portland will result in 36 home dates in the regular season. The Flyers will run all business and hockey operations, with Danny Briere, a former Flyers player, overseeing day-to-day operations and Paul Holmgren, president of the Flyers, serving as the yet-to-be-named team’s governor.
The Flyers already have an ECHL affiliate in Pennsylvania, the Reading Royals, so the team in Portland may affiliate with a different NHL club. Unlike in the AHL, most rosters in the ECHL are put together by each team’s hockey operations staff.
“We are excited to reignite the hockey tradition in Portland,” Holmgren said in a prepared statement. “The Flyers organization has a stong commitment to winning and developing future stars, and we intend to bring that same culture to this franchise. We’re also happy to have an opportunity to assist Spectra in its commitment to the Portland region and the Cross Insurance Arena, a great facility that has recently benefited from a major renovation.”
The Flyers were the parent club of Portland’s original pro hockey franchise. The Maine Mariners began play in the AHL in 1977 in the Cumberland County Civic Center, which retained that name until Cross Insurance bought the rights in 2014.
For the past four seasons, the Flyers have also run business operations for the Hartford Wolf Pack, an AHL franchise affiliated with the New York Rangers. Spectra also runs Hartford’s XL Center, whose primary tenant is the Wolf Pack.
Portland will be one of three ECHL franchises in New England, joining the Manchester (New Hampshire) Monarchs and the expansion Worcester (Massachusetts) Railers. Both those cities lost AHL franchises before acquiring ECHL teams.
This story will be updated.