June 30: The official announcement has been made. Maine will be the new affiliate of the Boston and Providence Bruins.
June 29: The Boston Bruins are set to bring their ECHL prospect much closer to home. The Portland Press Herald’s Glenn Jordan reports that their city’s ECHL franchise, the Maine Mariners, will soon become the official affiliate of the nearest NHL team, with the Bruins expected to make an announcement on Wednesday. This will mark the end of the Mariners’ relationship with the New York Rangers, Jordan notes, as well the break-up between Boston and the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators.
This is just the latest shake-up in the ever-changing minor affiliation landscape. A relatively stable set of relationships for quite a while during the 2000’s and into the early 2010’s, the last several years have brought a number of changes to the AHL and ECHL and their associations with NHL parent clubs. Maine, a 2018 ECHL Expansion team, did not play this past season due to COVID-19 but are set to return in 2021-22 with an exciting new partnership. Ironically, Atlanta also did not play this season due to the pandemic and the Bruins sent their ECHL prospects to the Jacksonville Ice Men. Even more ironic is that Jordan reports that Jacksonville will now become the new affiliate of the Rangers in place of Maine. This will displace the Winnipeg Jets, who will need a new ECHL affiliate with the Gladiators, Allen Americans, and Norfolk Admirals to choose from. The Jets could also opt not to partner with an ECHL team, as several other NHL teams have.
There is a bit of history to this move as well. The original Maine Mariners were an AHL team from 1977 to 1992, at which time they relocated and became – the Providence Bruins. There is also a long-standing relationship between not only Boston sports teams and Maine but the Boston-Providence-Portland trifecta. The Boston Red Sox for decades housed their AAA affiliate in the Providence suburb of Pawtucket and their AA affiliate in Portland. While the Pawtucket Red Sox relocated to Worcester this year, the Portland Sea Dogs are still standing. The Boston Celtics’ G-League affiliate, the Maine Celtics (formerly Red Claws) also play in Portland. The Mariners will have some stiff competition for Maine’s most popular minor league team, but between the multiple iterations of the Mariners sandwiching a long run by the AHL’s Portland Pirates and previous QMJHL teams in the state, Portland has always belonged to hockey and excitement will be at a new high with the Boston affiliation.