After attending both American Hockey League Atlantic Division semifinal games this past weekend, I was left with two baffling questions: what got spilled on the floor of the Frank Fixaris Memorial Press Box to make it stickier than glue-based rodent traps, and, more importantly, why don’t local sports fans, of whom there are plenty, support the Pirates in greater numbers? Portland swept Hartford, putting a hurting on the Wolf Pack in two hotly contested, physical games that were as exciting as hockey gets, and yet the arena was half-empty both nights.
I think it’s the building, which is unfair. The Cumberland County Civic Center is a relic that was showing its age when Steve Tsujiura, Dennis Patterson, and Mitch “the Bulldog” Wilson skated for the long-departed Mariners, a fact that no architectural “face-lift” will mitigate, but Mainers shouldn’t let that keep them from Pirates games, especially with the playoffs under way. After all, lots of fans who dislike the Civic Center are the same people who rhapsodize about Fenway Park, which has uncomfortable seats built for narrow 19th-century behinds, and men’s rooms where you pee in a trough. At least the Civic Center has individual urinals; that’s got to be a point in its favor.
Just because the building lacks amenities doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the ice, or with the kids in the red jerseys zipping around that ice. I could do without the stupid Bob Marley videos they play on the scoreboard (for dumbass Maine humor I prefer the lady from the Marden’s commercials), but the product this Pirates team is putting out is great. The goal Geoff Platt scored Saturday night on an unlikely backhanded flip shot, had he done it with the Pirates' NHL parent club, would have been on SportsCenter's infinite replay loop; two minutes later, Platt notched an assist by feeding the puck to Bobby Ryan, who poked it into the Hartford net; Stephen Dixon and Jason King each scored two goals over the weekend, Dixon getting both of his in Sunday’s game.
And these Pirates fight, too. Saturday night’s game was pretty chippy, especially in the final period, when Portland was hitting so hard that Hartford probably thought they were trying to check them through the boards. So it was hardly surprising when Portland’s Andrew Ebbett took offense at a smack in the face from the butt end of Wolf Hugh Jessiman's stick as time expired. Gloves dropped, and each landed a series of haymakers. Jessiman got the worst of it, although not by much, and when the fight was over everyone knew it hadn’t provided enough release for all the bad blood that had built up between the clubs over the long season. Sure enough, on Sunday night neither team could keep their anger in check until the end of the game. Gloves hit the ice and fists hit faces during the first period.
Portland took a 3-1 series lead back to Hartford, where they might close the series out Tuesday night, but considering how evenly matched these teams are, a return to P-town for Game 6 on Thursday is the most likely outcome. Either way, more hockey will be played at our unpolishable turd of a Civic Center this year. Anyone who enjoys competition should find their way into an empty seat. If they do, I can offer two guarantees: they won’t be disappointed by the game, and they won’t have to pee in a trough. That requires 100 bucks and a two-hour drive.
Rick Wormwood can be reached at email@example.com.