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Wednesday, May 8th

Written by Michael Keeley, Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting

As the Maine Mariners embarked on their milestone fifth ECHL season, they hit the ice with high expectations. The 2022-23 Mariners had achieved a franchise best 87 points and 42 wins. They cruised into the postseason, and despite suffering the same playoff fate as the version before them (a six-game first round exit), had set the bar high going into Season V. 

The fifth season of Maine Mariners hockey felt like a rollercoaster, winding its way around the track that was the 2023-24 season. It was a season marked by inconsistency, in all aspects. Winning streaks were hard to come by. Home wins – even harder, at times. But these Mariners had a special quality – one that the previous versions arguably lacked. With their backs against the wall, they rose to the challenge. And it was because of that quality that the 2023-24 Mariners made it farther than any team before them.

Just two games into the season, tragedy struck the nation – and more notably, the state of Maine. A mass shooting in Lewiston on October 25th left 18 dead, shook the state, and postponed the Mariners’ second home game – scheduled for October 27th. Hitting the ice again on the 28th at Adirondack, donning helmet stickers in support of the community, the Mariners delivered their first victory of the season in dramatic fashion. Owen Pederson, skating in just his third professional game, scored the overtime winner in a 4-3 Mariners triumph. It was early foreshadowing of what would be an epic and consequential season series between Maine and Adirondack.

It wasn’t until the final game of November – the 25th, that the Mariners won a game on home ice. Brad Arvanitis turned in a 34 save performance in a 3-1 victory over the Reading Royals, giving the Cross Insurance Arena faithful something to cheer about for the first time. That victory set off what would be one of Maine’s two longest point streaks of the season, as they managed points in six in a row, going 4-0-2 through the early part of December. The Mariners failed to carry the momentum through the end of 2023, winning just two more games before New Year’s Eve, and entering 2024 at 10-12-4.

The fifth anniversary celebration took place on January 6th, as the Mariners brought back the jerseys from their first ever game in the fall of 2018. Things were looking good against Adirondack, with a 4-2 lead in the third, but the Thunder rallied for a 5-4 OT win, ushering a blizzard into Portland later that night on their way out of town. In a season full of big moments for Alex Kile, January 7th against Worcester was a game that he put the team on his back. Down one with just under two minutes to play, Kile scored twice in the final minutes of the game to flip a 2-1 deficit into an eventual 4-2 win over the Railers and capture the first win of 2024.

The Mariners continued to get to the verge of the .500 mark, reaching it on January 15th, 26th, and 28th, but each time failing to climb above it. They’d get to .500 again on February 9th following a remarkable third period comeback in Worcester, capped by Ryan Mast’s OT winner. But three straight losses would follow, and doubt began to creep in that the Mariners would ever find traction. It was off to the Midwest to end February, and the Mariners enjoyed a successful tour of the Central Division, getting points in three of their four games. The offense dropped back-to-back six-spots on Toledo and Cincinnati to cap the month, with Kile breaking the franchise single-season goals record and Adam Mechura registering the first Maine hat trick of the campaign. Again, three straight losses proceeded, but a game against Adirondack on March 8th would finally turn the tide.

Sitting in sixth place out of seven North Division teams, the margin for error was slipping and the Mariners were running out of time. With the division-leading Thunder in town again, the Mariners pulled out an unexpected 7-0 beatdown of Adirondack, which would lead to five consecutive home wins. The following weekend, Maine executed its first ever “Threekend” sweep, beating the Thunder again, followed by a pair of victories over Reading.

On March 21st, Portland lost a hockey icon when Raymond “Switchboard” Dudley passed away. One of the most dedicated fans of all three Portland professional hockey teams, Switch’s seat in section M was showered with flowers, signs, and cards as the Mariners began another Threekend against Newfoundland the next day. They delivered for their biggest supporter, with a 4-3 victory over the Growlers, finally moving above .500 for the first time all season. Two days later, they completed a 5-1 homestand with another win over the Growlers and found themselves sitting in a playoff spot.

The final days of March and the first ones of April were tumultuous, as the Mariners faced further uncertainty with their upcoming schedule. The ECHL’s Board of Governors was set to meet on April 2nd to determine the fates of the Growlers and the Trois-Rivieres Lions, whom the Mariners had on their schedule the following day. As the Lions were saved (and the Growlers weren’t), it was back to Quebec to open April, just one point separating the two teams. A 5-2 win, another snowstorm, and then a 6-2 home victory over Worcester had the Mariners suddenly in third place with six games to go.

It was a forgettable weekend in Worcester April 6th and 7th, as the Mariners gave up 17 combined goals in 8-2 and 9-5 losses to the Railers. The Sunday game featured a blown 4-1 lead and as they entered their final four games with Adirondack, it was three teams: Maine, Trois-Rivieres, and Worcester, vying for two playoff spots. Losing the final two home games of the regular season, the Mariners did eke out a point on April 12th in a 5-4 overtime loss – one that would prove to be immensely valuable, and ultimately allow them to return to their home fans a few weeks later.

The final weekend of the regular season would take place in Glens Falls on April 13th and 14th, while the Railers and Lions went head-to-head in Trois-Rivieres. Things got off to a promising start on Saturday night as the Mariners built up a 3-0 lead. But the Thunder rallied back, stole a 4-3 victory, and put the Mariners in a must-win position on the season’s final day. As Maine went to the third period down 3-1, Trois-Rivieres finished a shutout of Worcester, meaning it was going to be the Mariners or Railers in the final North Division playoff spot. An Alex Kile power play goal made it a one-goal game, and the unlikeliest of heroes, rookie forward Ty Cheveldayoff - skating in just his second professional game - found the game-tying goal late to force overtime. It was in sudden death that Kile added one more moment to his legendary Mariners career, one-timing home the game-winner on the power play and sending his team to the postseason, at the last possible moment.

Having already played four straight games against one-another, the Mariners and Thunder met again in the North Division Semifinals to open the Kelly Cup Playoffs, and it would be a tremendous series. Shocking the Glens Falls faithful, the Mariners took Game 1 by a 2-1 score, marking the team’s first ever road playoff win and series lead. The Thunder responded with a 2-0 win in Game 2, but Maine now had home ice advantage headed for Portland for the middle games. A 4-1 Mariners victory in Game 3 put them back ahead in the series, but Game 4 would prove to be the turning point. Failing to hold a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes in Game 4, the Mariners watched the Thunder rally and win back-to-back games at the Cross Insurance Arena, putting them down 3-2 as the series shifted back to Glens Falls. A gritty Mariners win in Game 6 pushed the series to its limit, but the magic finally ran out and Adirondack won 2-0 again in Game 7 to advance.

Alex Kile’s season was historic in many ways, led by new Mariners single-season records for points (83) and goals (37). During the season, he also achieved career milestones of 400 professional games, 300 ECHL games, 100 ECHL goals, and 100 Mariners assists. In between the pipes, Brad Arvanitis was the rock in the Mariners net, boasting a .920 save percentage – fourth among all ECHL netminders. He was the ECHL’s Rookie of the Month for January, and continued his stellar play into the postseason, picking up all three Maine wins in the series. On the blue line, Gabriel Chicoine’s breakout season earned him a spot at the ECHL All-Star Classic in Savannah. His 61-point season ranked third among ECHL defensemen, and only Utah’s Josh Wesley scored more goals than Chicoine’s 16 from the back end. Owen Pederson, who led all Mariners in playoff goals, played a major role from March through the end of the year, scoring 10 goals in March alone, highlighted by a hat trick and four-point game against Newfoundland on March 24th. Pederson scored two key shorthanded goals in the postseason, including the game-winner in Game 6.

Finally, the success in the stands was perhaps the highlight of the fifth season. Averaging 4,377 fans per game, the Mariners led all North Division teams in attendance in 2023-24. At nearly 1,000 fans on average above their 2022-23 number, the Mariners achieved seven sellouts this past season: Oct. 21, Nov. 11, Dec. 29, Jan. 27, Feb. 17, Mar. 5, and Apr. 12. The Cross Insurance Arena was the place to be all fall, winter, and spring long.

The 2023-2024 Maine Mariners won’t be remembered as the greatest team in franchise history. In fact, their .500 point percentage is the lowest of any of any of the first five versions of the Mariners. They never won more than four games in a row, and never climbed higher than third place in the North. All that said, the fifth anniversary Mariners team still managed to take the organization forward. Making it farther than any team before them, to the brink of the North Division finals, and to within a game of pulling off one of the biggest first round upsets in ECHL history – the 2023-24 Mariners had a special quality to them – a fighting spirit. A spirit that will inevitably carry forward to Season Six and beyond.

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