A little more than a year after establishing a minor-league hockey franchise in Portland, the Maine Mariners are starting to build their ECHL roster.

The first signing window for minor-league free agents opens Saturday, although a number of former college players who interested the Mariners already signed and played with existing ECHL clubs this spring.

“We do have a couple guys lined up that we’re hoping to sign (Saturday),” said Riley Armstrong, who has been scouting potential players since accepting the Mariners’ coaching job in February. “It’s still a work in progress.”

The ECHL season ended last weekend when the Colorado Eagles successfully defended their Kelly Cup championship with a Game 7 victory over the Florida Everblades. It marked the 30th season of the ECHL, which formed in 1988 as the East Coast Hockey League with five teams in four states and now includes 27 teams in two countries.

A second wave of free agency begins July 1 for players currently under contract. Existing ECHL teams are allowed to protect up to 20 players on their current rosters through the end of the month. Eight of those 20 may be retained for another season. The remaining 12 are free to sign with their current team or become free agents July 1.

“We’re just trying to jump on what we think are good young players coming out of college,” Armstrong said. “We’ve been working to land those guys that we think will be big pieces of the puzzle, maybe not even next year but down the road.”

Each ECHL club must adhere to a salary cap. The Mariners also expect to receive a number of prospects from their NHL affiliate, the New York Rangers, who open training camp Sept. 12. A little more than a week later, the Hartford Wolf Pack does likewise. Hartford is the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate.

Danny Briere, the Mariners’ vice president of hockey operations, has accompanied Armstrong on a few scouting trips, “but Riley has done most of the work,” Briere said. “We have a good amount of players that we’re interested in.”

Briere said the Mariners found an assistant coach to join Armstrong but cannot make an announcement until the coach’s current contract expires at the end of the month. Briere also said the Rangers reached out to him and Armstrong this spring for input on potential free agents when Hartford was in need of players near the end of the AHL season.

Briere is a former Philadelphia Flyer who is employed by Comcast Spectacor, the company that owns both the Flyers and the Mariners, who, of course, are a Rangers affiliate.

“I know it’s weird, especially with the rivalry between the two franchises,” Briere said, “but we’ve been really happy with the relationship with the Rangers since we’ve started working with them.”

The league’s annual summer meetings are scheduled for next week in Las Vegas. Last month Ryan Crelin was appointed to succeed Brian McKenna as ECHL commissioner.

Back in Maine, Armstrong said he and his family have found a home in Gorham, where his daughter will begin second grade in September. Also moving to the area is Mark Riepe, a Texas native who joined the Mariners as equipment manager after holding a similar position for the Peoria Rivermen.

The Mariners have yet to set a date or location for their training camp. Briere said he’s in discussions with representatives of several area rinks.

He said he also hopes to formalize housing arrangements for players, one of the duties of each ECHL club.

“We’ve had some setbacks in that department,” Briere said. “Housing is the one area that we need to get on really quick.”

The Mariners open their inaugural season Oct. 13 at Cross Insurance Arena against the Adirondack Thunder. It marks the first of four home games in October. The ECHL regular season concludes in the first week of April.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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