The Cumberland County Civic Center has lost its hockey team, but may gain a new professional indoor lacrosse team.
The United States Lacrosse League announced the formation of the Maine Moose Trax franchise Monday and said the team hopes to play its home games at the civic center. It is the first franchise for the league, which expects to start play in the fall of 2014.
Tyson Nason, vice president of operations for the Moose Trax, said Tuesday that team representatives have met with the civic center’s manager and “still need to solidify our relationship.” He said the team could consider other venues in Portland and Lewiston if it cannot reach an agreement with the county-owned civic center.
Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center’s trustees, said the league has had a preliminary discussion with a civic center official.
“Certainly, no deal has been reached,” he said. “There would be a long way to go before that would happen, if it would happen.”
Any lease agreement between a sports team and the civic center needs approval from the trustees, Pratt said. Trustees were not aware of the lacrosse league’s interest in the civic center until Monday’s announcement, he said.
In announcing the formation of the Maine franchise on its website, the league initially said the team would play at the civic center, but league founder and Chairman Nick Desrosiers said in an interview that the announcement was written incorrectly. He said the league should have indicated that the team will pursue an agreement with the civic center to play 12 home games in Portland.
“It’s for sure the team will be playing in Maine and in or around Portland,” Desrosiers said. “The first target is the civic center. We’re hoping we’ll get this thing buttoned down in the next couple weeks.”
Pratt said the trustees are considering prospective sports tenants that are interested in using the civic center, now that the Portland Pirates no longer call it home after 20 years there.
The American Hockey League team is playing this season’s home games at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston because it could not reach a new lease agreement with the civic center.
The civic center and Pirates had reached a tentative agreement in April that called for a five-year lease in which the team would share concession sales and advertising revenue for the first time. Further negotiations failed to produce a final deal, and in September the team filed a lawsuit calling for the tentative agreement to be enforced.
Pratt said the lacrosse league’s interest in the civic center shows the “tremendous potential” for the venue, which is undergoing a $34 million renovation that’s expected to be completed in early 2014.
The Maine Moose Trax organization is owned by a local investment group led by Gorham native Joshua Plowman.
In the league’s announcement about the Maine team, Commissioner Anthony Chase said “Portland has been a potential lacrosse market for many years and we’re very fortunate to match a lacrosse-hungry community and a first-class facility with an ownership group committed to the success of the league.”
The United States Lacrosse League plans to have teams throughout the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. It has not yet announced the number of teams, but has said each team will play 12 home games and 12 away games.
Indoor lacrosse – also called box lacrosse – is similar to outdoor lacrosse. Box lacrosse is typically played on a hockey rink with the ice removed or covered. The playing surface is generally artificial turf. The game consists of four 15-minute quarters, with five runners and a goalie for each team.
Professional box lacrosse has been played in the United States since 1986. The National Lacrosse League now has nine teams in the United States and Canada.
Major League Lacrosse has eight outdoor lacrosse teams across the country.
Sam Lane, a director for the MAINEiax Lacrosse program and the men’s lacrosse coach at the University of Southern Maine, said the state has a strong lacrosse tradition, especially in southern areas, where many high schools and clubs have teams. Maine has 81 high school lacrosse teams.
“It’s the fastest-growing sport in the country, and the lacrosse community around Portland is strong,” Lane said.
Ben Raymond, coach of the Cape Elizabeth High School boys’ lacrosse team, said the presence of a professional team could bring more attention to the sport in Maine. He said young players could benefit by seeing professionals play, even if indoor and outdoor lacrosse call for slightly different skills.
“I think it’s great for the growth of the sport,” he said. “Any time there’s an opportunity to see professional lacrosse played in Maine is outstanding.”
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: