Mariners Capitalize on League of Opportunity
PORTLAND, ME - The North American Hockey League's long-standing mantra, "The League of Opportunity," has been re-enforced by rising numbers of NCAA commitments, NHL draft picks, and professional contracts with each passing year. The largest and oldest Junior hockey league in the U.S. has become a premier destination for teenage hockey players with dreams of playing at the highest level. But the NAHL has seen an emerging pattern off the ice too - the League of Opportunity is becoming a breeding ground for the professional growth of those employed in hockey and business operations offices alike. Perhaps no better example can be found than that of the ECHL's newest franchise - the Maine Mariners. Pulling four employees and a player with NAHL backgrounds, the Mariners have given credence to the "League of Opportunity" in a big way.
The Mariners were announced as a new ECHL franchise in the summer of 2017 after the purchase and relocation of the Alaska Aces to Portland, Maine by Comcast-Spectacor and the Philadelphia Flyers. They became an affiliate of the NHL's New York Rangers in April 2018 and will begin play in October. The ECHL is the Premier AA Hockey League, behind the AHL. It consists of 27 teams playing 72 games from as far West as Idaho and now as far East as Newfoundland, Canada.
From the Aberdeen Wings comes Mariners assistant coach, Anthony Bohn. Scott Langer's right-hand man for four different seasons, Bohn was an assistant for the Topeka RoadRunners under Langer from 2013-15 and again with the Wings the previous two years. He'll work under head coach Riley Armstrong with the Mariners.
"Coaching in the NAHL prepared me for the pro level by the standards and level of expectations by the organizations and staff I have had the opportunity to work with," Bohn said. "Scott Langer, Steve Jennings and all the great owners within the league like Greg Odde to provide the resources possible to develop as a coach."
Sharpening skates and setting the locker room this season for the Mariners will be equipment manager Mark Riepe, who worked for the Lone Star Brahmas from 2013 to 2017. His journey led him to Peoria, IL where he was named "Equipment Manager of the Year" for the Peoria Rivermen of the SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League) in 2017-18.
"The Brahmas held high expectations on my end of the profession in terms of how well we treated the players whether they were here to stay or just in town for the weekend to tour the facility," Riepe said. "They were all treated like part of the 'Brahma' family. Coach [Dan] Wildfong had a big influence on my success with teaching me the way of a 'never saying no' mentality and that there is always a solution for everything."
The Director of Marketing for the Mariners is Natalie Tobey, who helped the Janesville Jets to the 2014-15 NAHL "Organization of the Year" Award. Starting with the Jets as an unpaid volunteer in 2013, Tobey was the sole full-time member of the Janesville front office in '14-15.
"As the only full time staff member with the Jets, I learned so much about time management, scheduling and the business of hockey," said Tobey. "I don't believe I would be where I am today without the experiences I had in Janesville."
A four year NAHL vet, Michael Keeley recently joined the Mariners as Media Relations and Broadcast Manager. Keeley held media, sales, and broadcasting positions with the Keystone Ice Miners (2014-15) and Austin Bruins (2015-18). He also twice served as a broadcaster for the NAHL's annual Top Prospects Tournament - in 2015 and again in 2017.
"The discrepancy from juniors to pros - particularly in the front office structure - is smaller than people might think," Keeley said. "My four years in the NAHL gave me the opportunity to get a taste of virtually everything that goes into the business side of running a hockey team. That learning experience was invaluable."
The League of Opportunity, as it stands from a player perspective, applies to the Mariners too. Defenseman John Furgele signed his first professional contract with the Mariners on June 27th. He spent two seasons with the Bismarck Bobcats from 2010-12.
"Playing for Bismarck definitely helped me in my journey to play Division I and professional hockey," Furgele said. "Coming in as a 17-year-old, I was able to go against older guys and develop more through lots of practices and games. If it weren't for my time in Bismarck, I would not be here today."
And what makes the Mariners in particular, a perfect fit for 'NAHLers' past?
"The Mariners are a perfect first step into professional hockey and the experiences in the NAHL translate well," said Tobey. "ECHL staffs aren't as large as AHL or NHL so the ability to wear many hats is something that has helped me in my position with the Mariners."
"It's a youthful, work driven staff," added Riepe. "We all come from extremely well known teams in the NAHL that are very successful and winning teams, which I hope continues at the pro level."
The Mariners, proud affiliate of the New York Rangers, will start play in the inaugural season October 13, 2018 as members of the ECHL. The ECHL is the premier AA hockey league in the United States. Season tickets for the Mariners inaugural season are on sale now by visiting www.marinersofmaine.com or call toll free 833-GO-MAINE.
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