The Portland Pirates
announced today a new, long-term affiliation agreement with the Buffalo Sabres effective with the 2008-2009 AHL season. The announcement was made by Pirates Managing Owner/CEO Brian Petrovek, Pirates Chairman/Governor Lyman Bullard, Sabres’ Managing Partner Larry Quinn, and Sabres’ General Manager Darcy Regier.
“This is an exciting day for fans of hockey throughout our state to partner with an eastern US city with one of the richest histories in professional hockey dating back to the turn of the century. From an initial meeting with Larry and Darcy last fall and our follow-up with Chief Operating Officer Dan DiPofi, we knew this would be a great fit for our fans and our business, one that we expect will bring exciting, championship caliber performances on the ice for years to come, along with a deeply rooted commitment to our community off the ice as well. Today’s announcement represents another important building block in our growth and commitment to professional hockey in Maine,” said Petrovek and Bullard in a joint statement.
Before teaming up with the Pirates, the Sabres were affiliated with the Rochester Americans for 29 seasons, the longest such partnership in professional hockey between an NHL team and its AHL affiliate. During that span, Rochester had a record of 1,137-932-238-13 in 2,320 regular season games (.593 winning percentage) and made the playoffs 24 out of the 29 seasons. The team won its Division title eight times, advanced to the Calder Cup Finals six times, winning the Calder Cup three of those years in 1983, 1987 and 1996. A number of current Sabres players, including Ryan Miller
, Thomas Vanek
, Derek Roy
, Jason Pominville
, and Paul Gaustad, helped Rochester to its best season record in team history when they earned 112 points during the 2004-2005 season.
“We are excited to begin our AHL affiliation with the Portland Pirates and the city of Portland,” said Buffalo Sabres Managing Partner Larry Quinn. “I am looking forward to working with Lyman Bullard, Brian Petrovek and Brian Williams, and the entire Pirates organization. I have been impressed with their professionalism from day one and am excited to build our new relationship both personally and professionally.”
“There is a rich history of professional hockey in Portland and we hope to add to that winning tradition,” said Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier. “During our tenure with our previous AHL affiliation, our franchise model was to draft and to develop young prospects and build our success from a core group within. With our current roster of players like Ryan Miller
, Jason Pominville
, Derek Roy
and Thomas Vanek
, we have been able to develop our system with positive results. It’s critical for the survival and success of the Buffalo Sabres franchise to continue to add quality, young players that can develop within our system and grow as professionals.”
The NHL officially came to Buffalo on Dec. 2, 1969, as part of a two-team expansion, when the league awarded Seymour and Northrup Knox the franchise that would soon be named “Sabres.” They chose center Gilbert Perreault as their first draft pick in 1970, after being awarded the number one selection. He, along with wingers Rene Robert and Rick Martin, became known as “The French Connection” and led the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1975, only five seasons after the team’s inception. The team had continued success and made the playoffs for the next ten seasons, five of which where under Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman (‘79-‘80, ‘81-‘85). The team experienced great success again in the mid-90s, going through a number of changes in the 1996-97 season. Founder Seymour H. Knox passed away in the spring of 1996 just as the Sabres donned new uniform colors and moved from the storied Memorial Auditorium into the new HSBC Arena where they went on to capture the Northeast Division title. Lindy Ruff, a former Sabres defenseman and left wing, was named head coach at the beginning of the next season and led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals. The team’s success carried over to the 1998-1999 season when the Sabres made the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost to the Dallas Stars in six games.
Tom Golisano brought stability and a renewed excitement to the team when he purchased it in March, 2003. Following the NHL lockout, the Sabres returned to exceed all expectations by recording 52 wins and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, earning Ruff a Jack Adams Trophy for Coach of the Year. The next season proved to be even better, as the Sabres won a franchise-record 53 games and earned the President’s Trophy in front of 41 sell-out crowds in the regular season. They also sold out the nine home playoff games on their way to the Conference Finals, making it the first time since 1979-80 that every game was played in front of a sold-out crowd. This success on and off the ice earned the organization a nomination for “Professional Sports Team of the Year” from the Sports Business Journal and Sports Business Daily.
Buffalo becomes the third NHL affiliate in Pirates history. During its five-year affiliation with the Washington Capitals (2000-2005), the Pirates compiled a .535 regular-season winning percentage and made the playoffs three out of the five seasons. During their three-year affiliation with the Anaheim Ducks (2005-2008), the Pirates compiled a .563 regular-season winning percentage and made two Calder Cup playoff appearances, losing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in both the 2005-06 and 2007-08 seasons. During that time, the Pirates averaged close to 5,000 fans per game and attendance grew by over 15 percent. With their NHL affiliate closer geographically, Portland hopes that its fans will invest in the success of the Sabres and the rivalry between the Boston/Providence Bruins will intensify. Pirates fans will be able to watch the Sabres play divisional opponent Boston six times during the NHL’s regular season, giving fans a closer look at their new NHL affiliate.
The new long-term agreement between the Pirates and the Buffalo Sabres guarantees professional hockey in the city of Portland through 2011. Since the Maine Mariners inaugural season in 1977, over 1,000 games have been played in front of over 3 million fans at the American Hockey League level. The AHL is the top development league for the National Hockey League and will be celebrating its 73rd season of play next season. Dating back to the days of the Maine Mariners, the American Hockey League has now played hockey in Portland for over 30 years. Only five other teams (Hershey, Rochester, Providence, Springfield and Cleveland) have had an American Hockey League franchise in their city longer than Portland. The Cumberland County Civic Center, the Pirates’ home, has hosted four Calder Cup Champions in 1978, 1979, 1984 and 1994 and the 2003 Dodge AHL All-Star Classic, one of the most successful in league history.