November 11, 2015 - Portland, Maine
Since the opening of the Cumberland County Civic Center in 1977 AHL hockey had been a mainstay in Portland until the end of the 2013-2014 season. First with a team known as the Maine Mariners, and more recently with the Pirates. Things got shaken up a bit in 2013 as the downtown arena underwent a major renovation which coincided with the name change to Cross Insurance Arena. Team management and the arena could not come to terms on a lease while the renovations were ongoing, and the Pirates played an entire season in Lewiston at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee. It seems as though after returning downtown at the start of the 2014-2015 season the Pirates lost a bit of steam and perhaps some fan support. Nonetheless, this old school arena is a fun setting to watch hockey. Sitting on a hill a few blocks from the waterfront, the arena features a red brick exterior with a structure that cantilevers outward at the top and features a flat roof with brown metal siding at the top. The arena name sits prominently on all sides of the building, and a new lobby area features a 2 story glass facade and entryway. With the venue built into the side of a hill there are entries to the building at various levels, and on the upper side of the arena the roof, and the exposed underside of the seating structure which is integral with the wall design, seem to hang over the sidewalk. The design will look very familiar if you have attended games at Cornwall, Wheeling, or Binghamton's arenas as the building features the same architectural design and those venues. The exterior of Cross Insurance Arena looks rather sharp, and fits into the Colonial downtown of Portland rather nicely. A ticket for this Wednesday evening game was secured from the Pirates office adjacent to the arena earlier in the day for $19. Portland is a neat town, and is the type of city you think of when you think of the AHL. It just seems to be a good fit, which is likely why the teams have been supported for nearly 40 years.
Entry into the arena for this Pirates game was not through the newly renovated corner entrance, but rather an upper entrance where there is also a box office lobby. Just inside the gates there is a makeshift Pirates team store which is set up on one corner of the concourse. A concourse hallway runs underneath the seating area all the way around the arena, with quite a few concession stands offering a variety of food items including the New England staple Dunkin' Donuts. There is a bar, additional concessions, and a seating area in the corner of the arena above the main entrance lobby. The concourse opens up to the seating bowl about 1/3 of the way up the seats. What you find is a 4 grandstand design with very steeply pitched seats. All seats are maroon and padded, and there are 24 rows which make for a listed capacity of 6733. The ceiling is flat and white, and a decent video board hangs at center ice. There is a limited amount of seating in the corners, which is made up of a few rows of seating below the concourse entrances only. This still looks like an old-school hockey barn, and that is a good thing. Quite a few banners hang from the ceiling and you can feel the history the building holds as the AHL has been here for nearly 4 decades. There is not a lot of luxury seating at Cross Insurance Arena, with a few boxes perched into the walls in the corners. A simple open-air pressbox sits above the top rows of seats on one side. This definitely feels like the Pirates home as their presence is evident with banners and signage throughout the arena. An interesting architectural feature is the large, concrete support pillars which stand on the corner of the arena where the concourse meets the seating bowl. The pillars extend to the ceiling and have additional support beams jutting out as the height gets closer to the ceiling. These exposed pillars give a bit of an industrial look to the place. Navigating the concourse was rather easy on this night, but a small crowd was on hand. The concourse also has a bit of an old school feel to it, with a rough concrete floor and bricks walls along the concourse underneath the seating area, and tan concrete walls along the outer wall of the arena. Hold on as you walk up to your seat, as just like the arenas mentioned before in Cornwall, Binghamton and the like, the seats are steeply pitched and all offer a great view and feel close to the ice.
The gameday presentation for this midweek Pirates game against the Hartford Wolfpack was polished and professional, but also filled with fun. A nice touch is the on-ice player interview after warmups to get the crowd ready for the game. There are lots of giveaways and fan promotions, but that is to be expected in the AHL these days. It seems that there are quite a few loyal Pirates fans who get there early, attend nearly every game and show their support. There were quite a few jerseys in the crowd and most folks were in attendance for the game and on-ice product rather than the additional entertainment. The Pirates and their mascot skate out of a Pirate themed inflatable tunnel, and the presentation is enjoyable. There just weren't man people in the building to experience it. A reported crowd of 1600 or so was on hand, and honestly there were not enough fans in the building to raise the noise level at all. There were a couple dozen fans seated behind the benches who had their own little cheers and seemed to get excited when things went the Pirates way, but there just was not a lot of energy or hockey atmosphere to be had on this evening. This was a midweek game, however, and certainly the attendance is better on the weekend, but it seems as though the season away from Portland a couple of seasons ago while the lease was uncertain and the arena was being renovated may have killed some of the fan interest in the team. The game itself was a good one, with a great, long fight right off of the opening faceoff, and the Pirates pouring it on to take a 6-2 win. Intermission is filled with fun fan contests including a rather elaborate sports themed obstacle course and other events. With the design of the arena fans get a great view of all of the action since the angle of the seats provides a great view. Despite renovations to make the arena more comfortable the building has the bones of an old school hockey venue, and the viewing experience is likely not a whole lot different than it was in the 1970's, which is a good thing. A Portland Pirates game in certainly fun and well presented, and Cross Insurance Arena has a sense of history to it. The AHL belongs in places like Portland, and although it is understandable that support waned while the team played a season an hour away in Lewiston, we hope that this arena will host hockey for many more decades to come.
A box score of the game can be found Here
Other information about the Portland Pirates can be found at: Pirates Home
Other information about Cross Insurance Arena can be found at: Arena Home
More photos of Cross Insurance Arena can be found Here