Ted Hart is the first Maine native to play for the ECHL’s Maine Mainers. He made his debut on Saturday and the team is 2-0 with him in the lineup. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Shortly before the opening puck drop Saturday night, before the biggest Mariners crowd of the young minor-league hockey season, Coach Riley Armstrong called out the starting forward line.

Ted Hart’s line.

Ted Hart, who grew up in Cumberland and played Casco Bay youth hockey on this very ice inside what was then known as the Cumberland County Civic Center, would soon be standing at the blue line during the national anthem with friends and family members among the 4,588 fans witnessing his ECHL debut.

“I was a little nervous,” Hart admitted. “I didn’t want to fall or anything.”

The 23-year-old forward who in May earned his degree in economics from Yale University managed to stay upright.

“I was pretty fired up,” he said. “It was exciting.”

After initially being cut in training camp, Hart has returned to Portland as the first native Mainer to play for the Mariners. He has yet to register a point, but the team is 2-0 with him in the lineup.

Ted Hart chases the puck during the Mariners’ 4-3 overtime win over the Reading Royals on Monday night.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

They beat Adirondack 5-1 Saturday night and rallied past division-leading Reading 4-3 in overtime Monday night before a quieter crowd of 1,672 to extend their season-best winning streak to three.

“If there’s 10 people here or 10,000,” Hart said, “it’s still special for me, playing here.”

Ted is actually the third of Ellen and John Hart’s three boys to venture into the ranks of professional hockey.

Brian, 25, shuttled between Syracuse of the American Hockey League and Greenville and Kalamazoo of the ECHL for two seasons after a three-year NCAA career at Harvard before spending the past two winters with a pro team in Dundee, Scotland. He’s currently back in Cambridge finishing up work for his degree.

Kevin, 28, also played two winters for Dundee after one ECHL season with Elmira following a four-year NCAA career at Providence. Now retired, he filled in briefly at defense for ECHL Worcester last season as a favor to Railers assistant Derek Army, son of former Portland Pirates Coach Tim Army.

Until Saturday night, however, none of the Hart boys had skated during a professional game at Cross Insurance Arena, unless you count the between-periods exhibitions of Casco Bay house team tykes. They all skated in those merry melees.

Ted Hart was with the Maine Mariners in training camp, but was cut before the regular season. He was brought back and made his Mariners debut on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Signed by the Mariners in late August, Hart had hopes of making the opening-day roster but a flood of forwards from Maine’s AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, left little room for the rookie.

“He was one of the last cuts,” said Mariners GM Danny Briere. “It wasn’t really anything that he didn’t do in camp or that we didn’t like, he just got caught up in the amount of players Hartford sent to us.”

Briere and Armstrong encouraged Hart to sign with the Peoria (Illinois) Rivermen of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) and kept tabs on him.

“We liked what we saw and thought he was a good kid,” Briere said. “We stayed in touch with his coach in Peoria as well, and the feedback was great. We thought, ‘Well, he’s going to be our first call-up when we need someone.'”

With Peoria, Hart had a goal and five assists in five games. His father, John, bought a plane ticket and made plans to see a few games when Ted received the call from Briere last weekend.

Leaving Ellen’s well-traveled 2008 Ford Explorer in Illinois, Ted flew to Portland last Tuesday and began drawing the ECHL rookie minimum weekly salary of $480. He moved into a team-provided apartment with reserve goalie Francois Brassard, “but I go home for dinner quite a bit,” Hart said.

With Peoria, Hart saw a lot of ice time and in a variety of situations. With the Mariners, he played briefly on the penalty kill Saturday night and not at all on special teams Monday. He skated regularly in the first period Monday with center Dillan Fox and left wing Ryan Gropp and mixed in with others in the second and third periods as Armstrong blended in 10th forward Ryan Ferrill.

“Ted Hart is in our top nine,” Armstrong said. “He’s playing a regular shift. He’s not just sitting on the bench for the whole game, so I think that’s a step in the right direction for him.”

Hart was on the ice for Reading’s first goal. Midway through the first, he put a backhanded shot on net after corralling a loose puck in the offensive zone. He slid a nice pass to Gropp in the slot late in the period and shot wide when presented with his own opportunity from the slot late in the second with Maine trailing 2-1.

“I probably should have done a little better,” Hart said. “Hopefully, I can get that first goal soon and relax a little bit.”

Armstrong said two games is a very small sample size. Fox, for example, played 37 games last season for Maine after spending all or part of four seasons in the SPHL and “it took him 10 games to even get out of the 10th forward spot,” Armstrong said.

“Knowing you belong, I think, is the biggest part,” said Fox, who now leads the Mariners in scoring with seven goals and seven assists in 10 games. “He’s a really good skater. He has all the tools. He wants to learn. He’s been a great addition.”


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