Portland’s new minor-league hockey franchise will celebrate its namesake predecessor in early January with a Mariners Throwback Night promotion.

All season long, however, there will be a living, breathing link between the old Maine Mariners of the American Hockey League and the new Maine Mariners of the ECHL: Gordie Clark.

As director of player personnel for the New York Rangers – the National Hockey League affiliate of Portland’s new club – Clark will have a say in which Rangers prospects play in Portland, where he played for three full seasons and parts of two others from 1978-83 before becoming an assistant coach for two seasons.

“That’s a place I have fond memories of,” Clark said before the Rangers opened training camp. “I still have a lot of friends up there. A lot of Mariners stayed in the area.”

The original Maine Mariners won the Calder Cup championship in their inaugural season of 1977-78, and then again in ’78-79. Clark arrived late in that second season, having played previously with Rochester and Springfield of the AHL and Cincinnati of the World Hockey Association.

At age 26, Clark played 13 games for Maine at the end of the 1978-79 regular season and then 10 more in playoffs. His six goals and nine assists surpassed the playoff points of every other Mariner except Paul Evans, who had four goals and 13 assists. The Mariners dispatched the Nova Scotia Voyageurs in the division finals in six games before sweeping the New Haven Nighthawks to win the Calder Cup.

“I came in and helped out a bit near the end of the season,” Clark said. “They were a helluva hockey team. It was an unbelievable relationship with the city.”

Clark, who lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, also remembers the 1978 championship because, after his Rochester team was upset by New Haven in the semifinal, he and his wife, Carol, were on the way to Sugarloaf for a vacation and listened on the radio to Maine’s clinching game while passing through town.

The following summer proved tragic when a house fire in New Brunswick claimed the lives of Clark’s father, mother, younger brother, and sister and her family – a husband and their 5- and 3-year-old children.

“That was a tough, tough year,” said Clark, whose daughter, Ashley, was born that September.

Guy Delparte, one of the first Mariners to settle in Maine, remembers Clark as a calming veteran presence during the championship run.

“He was a heck of an asset to the team,” said Delparte, 69, who lives in Saco. “He doesn’t get too excited. I think if you’re staying in the game, that’s the way you have to be.”

Wayne Schaab, who used to live near Clark in Portland’s North Deering neighborhood, remembers centering a line with Clark on the right wing and Evans on the left.

“They used to call us the Geritol Line,” said Schaab, who at 32 was second in scoring to a 29-year-old Clark and just above a 27-year-old Evans for the 1981-82 Maine Mariners. “He had a great career here. He was a natural scorer who had a great shot. Sometimes it’s just timing, because he certainly had the talent to play in the NHL.”

Drafted by the Bruins out of the University of New Hampshire, Clark played eight games for them but made his biggest mark as an assistant coach, first with the Mariners from 1987-89, then with Boston from 1989-92. He began working in the Bruins scouting department before joining the Islanders, where he started as an assistant coach before moving to the front office.

The Rangers hired Clark prior to the 2002 season and he’s been with them ever since. New York is in the middle of a rebuilding process, having traded away a host of veteran players for draft picks. The Rangers had three first-round selections in June and two in 2017, meaning Clark has racked up untold miles scouting young players.

“I spent more time in Russia this year than I ever have,” said Clark, 66, who oversaw the selection of teenagers Vitali Kravtsov (Russia), K’Andre Miller (University of Wisconsin) and Nils Lundkvist (Sweden) in the first round of this year’s draft. “You can’t stay in it at this age unless you love it. It’s a lot of traveling.”

Traveling back to Portland, however, will be a pleasure. Clark said the Rangers are likely to send up to half a dozen players to Maine, although the number will fluctuate depending on the needs of the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford.

“It’s a very good brand of hockey,” he said of the ECHL. “It’s a good step out of college or juniors. All kinds of players move up every year.”

Clark expressed no dismay for the franchise opting against a groundswell of fan support for the nickname Wild Blueberries. He prefers the Mariners.

“It fits the area, but it’s also bringing back the name of a really good era of hockey that went on there, and the relationship between the team and the town,” he said.

“Everything fits in bringing that name back.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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