Maine Maple Sunday and the NCAA Tournament

With my brother unable to join me on our annual March hockey trip, I pointed the car northeast to a destination a good distance from both New Jersey and his home in Rochester. First stop was Lewiston, Maine…a place of intrigue for me ever since I added “The Colisee” and the “Maine Nordiques” to The List. Are they just copying their neighbors to the North? Are they owned by someone with Quebec ties? Nope, the more I researched, the more interested I became as Lewiston is a former Mill town that was flooded with French Canadians who came to work a century ago. There was even a Little Canada and in that area, the Franco-American Heritage Center kept their traditions and culture alive. In fact, it still stands and is now known as The Franco Center and it hosts performing arts events in their beautiful converted church. Small programs also keep local Franco traditions alive to a smaller degree and while it isn’t well-advertised, you can go tour the place. I rang the doorbell and was let in to find Denise able to show me around the place, which includes a museum of collectables and fascinating stories. I love finding unexpected stuff like this.

Lewiston also has been the site for other recent immigrants, primarily from Somalia. It created tension initially as the town was already struggling economically from the Mills closing and the concern was a further strain on services needed for many residents. The Bates Mill was the fabric of the town and they produced Textiles and were very popular on bedspreads. I visited the complex of many buildings between the Canal and the Androscoggin River and there is a small museum (Maine MILL) in the massive Bates Mill. Again, I was met by a very friendly (and super knowledgeable) guide that brought me around with another group. Small world, the group had Jersey ties and the guide lived 20 minutes from here a while back. She said the town’s struggles are showing signs of getting better and she compared Lewiston to being about 20-30 years behind Lowell. The Mills are being repurposed and there is more development/restructuring going on around town that will hopefully help the locals thrive and make it more attractive to those looking to move here. I took a stroll down the main thoroughfare, Lisbon Street and it has potential and some decent shops/restaurants are there, but also a fair amount of empty storefronts. It also was deserted enough that I felt sketched out and cut my walk short given some shady characters. I didn’t have that issue though across the bridge and along the Riverwalk in the twin city of Auburn, which provides a nice view of the Great Falls along the river. While the Falls weren’t “great” because of frozen water and a dry winter, I did get a panorama of Lewiston and checked out the historical markers along the way.

On to the main purpose of the trip, a new sports arena. Lewiston had had a building here going back to 1958 and amazingly, it was the sight of Ali-Liston II. It got renovated when a QMJHL team arrived in the 2000s and after they left town, it remained host for a professional team as the NAHL’s Maine Nordiques began play in 2019. This Tier II, American Junior league is interesting in that the league features a mix of actual hockey arenas and community rinks with just some benches. The Colisée is new meets old as the wonderful introduction and tall façade / entrance gives way to a rink that looks like you stepped back decades (those chairs!). More to come in a detailed review and it was an old-school to watch some hockey, though the home side lost 5-3. That didn’t damper my love for that beautiful logo!

I got a nice tip the previous day that it was “Maine Maple Sunday” and despite the deceptive name, events go on all weekend. The celebration is for maple syrup as the trees were already tapped and syrup is now ready to be sold. I stopped by a maple house to pick some up and see the process, a neat little detour on my way to Manchester. I reached the Queen City around Noon and found a great parking area as the Victory Garage is free on weekend. This was clutch because spots closer to the arena were $20 -$40! It was only a 10-minute walk from my garage and I left the car there all day to walk downtown for lunch and a visit to another Mill Museum. Manchester faired just a bit better than Lewiston as these massive buildings were repurposed not long after the industry was gone (and Manch was double their size at the time, now quadruple). The city doesn’t have much else for visitors, but I did like their main drag, Elm St, which had plenty of pre and post game eat/drink establishments.

It started snowing hard as I made my way to the arena. While brief, it did a nice job soaking my hat and glasses and I had to be crafty with outdoor pictures as to not ruin my phone. After a few minutes with hand driers in the bathroom, it was arena tour time. SNHU Arena is a modern building with a nice glass façade. Inside, two rows of luxury suites set the upper deck higher than you would expect for a 10,000-seat building. Those seats though…man, that tan color makes them look old and blah.

Unfortunately, my visit was not to see a home team as there is no tenant for the building. The AHL team that played here for years was moved to California and the ECHL team that replaced them was unsuccessful and lost money. This is a championship hosting venue as it stages the annual State High School Tournament each season. Also, it has been one of four Regional locations for the NCAA Division 1 Hockey Tournament. What a great site it is and it has hosted every other year since 2007. Attendance is heavily dependent on proximity and popularity of teams playing. With Cornell beating Denver and Boston University beating Western Michigan in the first round…this shaped up to be a packed house. BU is only an hour away and rich in tradition, while Cornell (5 hours away) is equal in college hockey pedigree. It was a tight contest, typical of one with high stakes. BU held a 2-0 lead in the final minute, then a fluky goal for Cornell made things interesting. The Terriers survived the final 30 seconds and 70% of the crowd celebrated. Despite the lopsided supporting sections, the place was buzzing, especially with each school bringing their entertaining pep band. Great event, enjoyable weekend and the official reviews will be completed in the next week or two. 

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