The Five Game Gauntlet

Published by Michael Keeley, Maine Mariners Media Relations and Broadcast Manager

Fortunately, we didn't opt for the 47 hour bus/ferry ride

Seven days. Six points. Five cities. Four flights. Three wins. Two losses (and a partridge in a pear tree). That's making a long story short for a week of Maine Mariners hockey that although took place in the inaugural season of the franchise, will surely go down in history as one of the busiest of all-time. A seven day gauntlet that took the Mariners on their very own planes, trains, and automobiles adventure in the middle of December, but that yielded three wins and built a whole lot of character. Let's go day by day through the week that was.


Two days removed from an emotional roller-coaster of a 5-4 shootout win over Adirondack, the week began with a Sunday afternoon tilt against the Worcester Railers. "Rivalry Night" was nine days prior and the rivalry was really coming to fruition. The Railers ended the Mariners' seven-game home point streak that night as Yanick Turcotte and Morgan Adams-Moisan dropped the gloves ten seconds into the game. Two days later, the Mariners lost a heart-breaker on the Railers home ice when a Zach Tolkinen clearing attempt in a tie game with less than a minute to go, took an unfortunate bounce onto the stick of Tyler Barnes just feet in front of Brandon Halverson, who promptly buried the game winner. Fast forward one week to this day and another early fight broke out: this one between Turcotte and Alex Adams, who would later join the Railers himself. Feeling the rivalry yet? The Mariners built a 3-0 and with the help of Halverson, hung on for dear life in the third before Adams-Moisan hit the empty net to seal a 4-2 win. It was far from pretty, but it was a key win to set the long journey ahead off on the right foot.


The first of two "off days" during the week, but one spent traveling all day long. The bus took off from the Cross Insurance Arena at 9 AM and took us to Boston's Logan Airport. After a long check-in process (have to check all the hockey and equipment bags!), we boarded our Air Canada flight to Toronto around 2 PM. About an hour-and-a-half flight time, we filled out our customs documents and landed at Toronto's Pearson Airport with about two hours until our next plane to Newfoundland. The staff ate together at a cramped Italian restaurant (which airport restaurants AREN'T cramped?) and we wandered over to our next gate, a surprisingly large flight to St. John's. Full largely of Newfoundlanders heading home for the holidays, it's 3.5 hours in the air, but we lost 1.5 for the dreaded time zone change. We touched down in St. John's a little after 11 PM, picked up the hockey gear, loaded it in a box truck, and and jumped on a bus to the hotel. The day wasn't done for the hockey ops staff, who spent the final hour of Monday (and part of the first of Tuesday), setting up the locker room for the impending morning skate.

Mile One Centre, formerly Mile One Stadium, and Memorial Stadium, home of the Newfoundland Growlers.


Once you get over your hour-and-a-half jet lag, it's time for a quick breakfast and then morning skate. The Mile One Centre, former home to AHL hockey just like the Cross Insurance Arena, is a beautiful facility. The Growlers share their home with the St. John's Edge of the National Basketball League of Canada - a team that I was shocked to see features former Boston Celtics NBA Champion Glen "Big Baby" Davis! It's a venue very similar in size to the Cross Insurance Arena - foreshadowing the similarities between Portland and St. John's. The players get their skate in around 11 AM and head back to the hotel for a pregame meal. While they rest up, I decide to explore downtown St. John's a bit. A candy store piques my interest - did you know Smarties are called "Rockets" in Canada? Game time arrives at 7 PM local time (5:30 back "West") and the Mariners play a pretty solid road game for 25 minutes, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Things unravel quickly in the second period as the Growlers score five and our boys never really recover. Newfoundland takes it 6-3, snapping their only two-game losing streak of the entire season.

You didn't believe me, did you?


With everyone (hopefully) adjusted to Newfoundland time, we do it all over again on Wednesday. After a tough loss, the team skates once again. I take another stroll down toward the harbor and find a Tim Horton's - which for a Western NY kid, feels like home. St. John's is truly the "Portland of Canada," if you will. With a charming waterfront tourist area full of apparel and novelty shops and parallel streets of restaurants and bars reminiscent of the Old Port, you feel as if you're not so far away. The Mariners coaching staff hoped the players would also feel as if they were home, but things didn't go quite according to plan. The Growlers score two lightning quick goals - the first by Adam Pardy - an NHL vet of over 340 games, who is stretching out his career on his home Province of Newfoundland. The Mariners get one back, but never draw closer than one, and the Growlers march on to a 5-2 victory and a home sweep.

The Portland of Canada, as coined by yours truly


A steady snow fell on St. John's through the middle of the day Wednesday and into the late evening, making the already slushy streets even messier. They had gotten nearly a foot of snow the previous weekend while the Reading Royals were in town, and the plows were just beginning to catch up. Fortunately for our travel plans, it was a clear Thursday morning as we bussed to the airport, and eventually - after a 90 minute delay, took off for Toronto. The delay cancelled out nearly our entire layover (and time change gain) and it was a sprint to the gate for our connecting flight back to the U.S.. From the back of another crowed St. John's plane, the team headed across the terminal, through customs, TSA security, up and down escalators, through seemingly endless passport and boarding pass checkpoints, and finally to our gate bound for Boston. There was a moment where I sat alone on the plane, wondering if everyone else would make it, but we all boarded in time just for us to experience another delay prior to wheels up for Logan. Around 10 PM, we were back in Beantown, awaiting our bags - equipment manager Mark Riepe watching closely to make sure all were accounted for. Then it was on the bus - a quick food stop, and finally back to Portland.



After a long day of exhausting travel, it's time for a much needed day off, right? Wrong. The Mariners had a 7:15 faceoff with the Adirondack Thunder for a second Friday in a row. Morning skate was understandably not held, but I was in the office by 10 - doing my typical home routine (which can you read about in the previous blog entry). After a day which I presume was full of mostly sleep, the team was ready to go and they showed it. Scoring three goals in the first 5:34 of the game, Thunder head coach Alex Loh was forced to call timeout to try and keep the game from getting away quickly. With shades of the very first game of the week, Adirondack got two goals back early in the second period. Maine finished strong, however and got two insurance goal late in the third to seal a much needed 5-2 win. Leading goal scorer Alex Kile had just returned from another AHL stint and provided a big spark - with a pair of goals. One day to go.


It was off to Worcester, MA in the early afternoon for yet another tilt in the developing rivalry. Almost everyone was catching a snooze on the ride down on this unseasonably warm December day. With one final leg to go on the gauntlet, the Mariners had the chance to finish the week with a winning record - a pretty remarkable feat all things considered. Equally as remarkable was the play of Brandon Halverson, who would appear in all five games, this being his fourth start. The last time the Mariners were at the DCU Center (the "bad bounce game"), they were at the end of a three games in three days stretch, and it was evident that they were out of gas in the third, with Halverson single-handedly keeping them in it. There was definite deja vu setting in on this Saturday night as the Railers threatened time after time to break a 1-1 deadlock in the third. After Halverson made 18 saves in the third and six more in a five-minute 3-on-3 OT, Alex Kile's third round shootout goal completed the "stolen win," and the 3-2-0-0 week.

Saturday night was probably the best night of sleep I've gotten in a long time. I could go on about my strained vocal chords or pages of game note prep, but this is about those 20 (give or take) players and what they went through, and ultimately overcame. There were so many moments where they could've have rolled over and mailed it in: their three goal leads twice disintegrating in rapid fashion, a less than satisfying trip to Newfoundland, a shooting gallery in Worcester on the final day of it all. A 1-4 or even 0-5 week could have unfolded for a mentally weak group. But over a seven day period, with a lot excuses at their disposal, the Mariners showed what they were made of, and came out better than when they went in. This week, they'll play just one game - on Saturday night, in Manchester. Then they'll go home to their families for a much needed holiday respite. When they return? Four games in five days to finish 2018. One thing is for sure: they've been through worse.