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Official Review by Brandon Rolfe, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Located just outside of Portland’s Old Port District, just blocks from Casco Bay, is the Cumberland County Civic Center, former home to the Maine Mariners (1977-1992) and current home to the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League (1993-present).
Built in 1977, this 6,733 seat arena has been the heart of Portland’s sports and entertainment for over 40 years. Expanding its seating to over 9,000 for concerts, the Civic Center has held many of Portland’s greatest and most memorable concerts with artists such as ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Boston, and Carrie Underwood.
The Civic Center has been home to many major events, including the AHL All Star Game in both 2003 and 2010. At the conclusion of the high school winter sport seasons, it is also home to the MPA Maine High School Basketball Tournament. Most notably, the Civic Center was home to Calder Cup Championships for both the Maine Mariners and the Portland Pirates.
The Portland Pirates, during their current AHL tenure, have been affiliates of the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, and currently the Phoenix Coyotes. This has allowed many future stars to come through Portland and play on Civic Center ice. With these affiliations, hockey stars such as Byron Dafoe, Kevin Kaminski, Kent Hulst, Martin Brochu, Nathan Gerbe, and Jim Carey have, at one point, called the Civic Center and the City of Portland home.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Civic Center offers a variety of food items from four separate food stands located with two on each side of the ice. As you enter the arena from either the Spring Street or Free Street entrances (both located on the same end of the arena), there is a restaurant located in the main lobby called The Penalty Box Grill, which is typically rented out or used for private outings before and during game time.
Alcoholic beverages can be purchased at their own specific beer stands located throughout the concourse. Coors Light and Bud Light are offered in 12oz cups, as well as local Maine-brewed Shipyard seasonal ales. Prices range from $4.50-$6, which in relation to many arenas and ballparks, is respectfully affordable.
Food items are reasonably affordable, perhaps slightly overpriced, but freshly made. These include $3 hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, French fries, and candy. The food selection is your standard choice of stadium foods, but there is a selection for just about everyone. Their signature item is called a Cannonball Ice Cream Cookie, which is two chocolate chip cookies with a vanilla ice cream middle; the perfect thing for the 3rd period after a hot dog, pretzel, and soda.
Like most minor league franchises in sports, there is a definite effort to bring excitement and involvement to fans and their overall experience at the arena. During periodic whistles, as well as the first period intermission, the two mascots for the Pirates, as well as staff members, emerge from the concourses and toss t-shirts.
Between the 2nd and 3rd periods, the usual "score-o" takes place, which has become a normal occurrence at Pirates games since the mid 90's. A child is chosen to shoot 3 pucks at the net to win various prizes and gifts, including tickets to future Pirates games. One adult is then chosen to shoot a center ice shot into a makeshift smaller goal in order to win a new car, courtesy of local Maine dealerships. The Portland Pie Company "chuck-a-pie" is the main event for fans in regards to intermission entertainment. For one dollar, a fan can purchase one rubber puck, and they are then thrown onto a specially designed mat laid out at center ice during the second intermission. If your puck lands on a certain spot on the mat, denoted with various gifts and prizes, you win that prize. These promotions are exciting and fun for fans, especially younger fans.
With the location of the Civic Center more centralized in the city aside from other Portland ballparks and arenas, there are many more options for pre and post-game opportunities.
Located only three or four blocks from Portland's historic Old Port District from the arena's Spring Street side, a Friday or Saturday night game could serve as great entertainment before having an easy walk to the Old Port bars, which in accordance with Maine law, are open until 1:00am, and serve as the major weekend nightlife area in the city of Portland.
Many surrounding bars and restaurants within one or two blocks of the arena create a wonderful pre and post-game atmosphere on game nights.
Binga's Stadium, located directly across the street on the Free Street side of the arena offers a variety of food choices as well as many choice beers on tap for a great sports bar feel for any game day.
Rivalries Sports Pub and Grill, located about one block from the arena is a popular favorite among fans as a place to catch a pre-game meal before heading into the game.
The most popular of the bars is the Brian Boru Irish Pub, located across the intersection from the Civic Center. It is a typical gathering spot for a post-game drink.
Located only one block from Congress Street on the Free Street side of the arena, fans can take a walk through Monument Square and enjoy some of Portland's stores and sights down one of Portland's major streets. Visiting all parts of Portland's historic landmarks is a must, and with the location of the Civic Center, many of the cities greatest downtown landmarks are a short walk away.
Even on a Tuesday night, when many minor league hockey teams are struggling to fill the seats, the Pirates always seem to attract a solid attendance with fans that are passionate about their hometown team. With every goal scored, the Pirates have several fans with their own special way of celebrating, with personalized flags waving in hand after a goal, chants, and celebrations. These actions give the games a feeling of tradition and togetherness among fans. Although the Pirates do not gain the advantage of the tourist season (which in Maine lasts from the middle of the summer until the middle of fall when the leaves change), which would typically attract more numbers in attendance, they thrive well with local fans that share a passion for the game of hockey and their hometown team.
The Civic Center's accessibility is typically simple depending on game nights, with access to the city of Portland off of Interstate 295 and 95. Being centralized in the city of Portland, parking is available through city-owned parking garages and privately owned smaller lots. You can find street parking for weekday games which is free after 5:00pm, but on weekend games, fighting the Old Port bar-goers for street parking is a bit of a struggle.
Many privately owned lots, such as the one located across the street from Brian Boru Pub, only cost $5 for parking on game nights and serves as an easy-in, easy-out for fans.
The city-owned parking garages located on Spring Street are available and easily accessible, but charge per hour for parking. If you are looking to enjoy a game and a night out on the town, privately owned lots will not force you to move your cars post-game, so you will have a secure spot for your vehicle for only $5.
Inside the arena, access is more limited, with narrow concourses and smaller bathrooms that seem to have a hard time withstanding a larger crowd.
Portland Pirates hockey has turned into a traditional winter happening for many Maine residents and visitors. With some of the lowest ticket prices in the AHL, and affordable concession prices, the Pirates work hard at giving their fans an affordable and fun experience. With the lowest ticket prices at $14 and the highest ticket prices at $20, priced by the location of the seats in relation to center ice, you can sit only a couple of rows behind the team benches or the penalty box for an affordable price to see the NHL stars of tomorrow.
The Civic Center features a center-hung scoreboard with a newly added video board on all four sides, showing replays, videos, and promotions throughout the game.
The Pirates also hold a home New Year's Eve game every season, featuring their well-known "Kids Near Year" which consists of music, prizes, and free giveaways during post-game, capping the night off with the largest indoor fireworks display in New England.
The souvenir store, located in the front lobby, gives fans an opportunity to purchase Pirates gear, as well as game-used memorabilia, such as sticks and jerseys.
The Civic Center, the Portland Pirates, and its fans create a very good atmosphere to view a hockey game. The city of Portland recently voted positively on major renovations to the Civic Center which will consist of suite level seating, improved bathrooms, locker rooms, and newer entrances to the arena. These renovations should begin taking shape at the conclusion of the 2012-2013 season.
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77 Free St
Portland, ME 04101
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