Maine Hockey Journal

10.) Ebright saves hockey in Portland

Over the course of the summer, and in between other upcoming news, I’ll be compiling and posting a list of the top-10 moments in Portland Pirates franchise history. Roughly, once a week, I’ll post a new moment. It will be a chance to relive some of the great moments over the past 15 years and it will be a chance for you, the reader, to interact with your thoughts, opinions and comments or maybe you have a favorite moment you’d like to share.

Tom Ebright saved hockey in Portland after many thought it had died with the loss of the Mariners. He earns a spot in the Top-10 moments for his contributions to the City of Portland and hockey fans all across Maine.

10.) At the end of the 1991-92 season, the Cumberland County Civic Center fell into darkness after Ed Anderson, Owner of the Maine Mariners suspended operations of the AHL franchise after 15 years, three Calder Cup’s and many memories made at the Civic Center.

Eventually after political maneuvering, they relocated to Providence, Rhode Island and were renamed the Providence Bruins, leaving many to believe it was the last time professional hockey would be played in Portland, Maine.

However, one man believed that not all was lost in Portland.

Tom Ebright, an investment banker from Maryland and owner of the Baltimore Skipjacks, saw Portland as a viable and successful hockey market, if it was done properly.

So after months of burning the midnight oil and a one-year absence, Ebright announced on March 27, 1993 that he was bringing hockey back to Portland. More importantly, he was bringing AHL hockey back to the Cumberland County Civic Center, something that had been such an integral part of the community since 1977 when the Maine Mariners first arrived.

The newly named Portland Pirates hit the ice for the first time in franchise history on October 8, 1993 in Providence, Rhode Island, battling against the former tenants of the Civic Center, the Providence Bruins (formerly known as the Maine Mariners). The Pirates came out with a 6-3 win as Steve Konowalchuk scored the first goal in franchise history.

Just five days later, the Pirates stepped on to the ice at the Cumberland County Civic Center for the first time, taking on the Saint John Flames. John Slaney scored the game winning goal to give the Pirates a 3-2 win in front of a near capacity crowd.

Over the next four seasons, the Pirates became an instant hit, not only in the community, but on the ice, winning the Calder Cup in their inaugural year – only the second team at the time to accomplish that feat, the Maine Mariners were the first winning the Calder Cup in 1977. However, as much as the Pirates became a mainstay in the community, Tom Ebright was just as vital to the community. He was the face of the franchise, to many he was bigger than life itself as most referred to him as Mr. Ebright, but he wouldn’t have any of it. Prior to the games, he waited in the concourse area, shaking the hands of fans. To him, he was just a fan, someone who loved the game of hockey to its fullest. At most games, he could be found sitting with his wife Joyce in Section D. Both would be decked out in their Pirates jersey’s emblazed with Ebright on the back, eating hot dogs, rooting for the home team.

Unfortunately, in the summer of 1997 his health took a turn for the worse due to a heart illness. While waiting for a heart transplant in Hershey, PA, he would pass away on July 11, 1997 with his family by his side, his wife Joyce would put on a brave face for the next few months, but it was never the same without Tom.

Eventually, she sold the team, however, Tom Ebright’s legacy still lives on with the Pirates, who just completed their 15th season in Portland, but also in the American Hockey League with the Thomas Ebright Award, which recognizes an owner or governor for their career contributions to the AHL.

The Pirates also named an award after Mr. Ebright, given to the player who best exemplifies what it means to be a Portland Pirate.

In another fitting tribute to Mr. Ebright, his jersey (#50) was retired by the Pirates, still the only number retired by the Pirates to this day.

Thomas Ebright, the Portland Pirates number one fan.

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