The last time a Boston Bruins’ affiliate took the ice in ECHL prior to this season, the Atlanta Gladiators, led by Samuel Asselin, were streaking towards the top of the South Division standings as the COVID pandemic shut down sports throughout the world.
Boston went the entire 2020-21 season without an ECHL affiliate and ended its partnership with Atlanta to explore geographically closer options. Boston decided on the Maine Mariners, swapping ECHL clubs with the New York Rangers and establishing a presence in northern New England.
After building a roster, Maine skated off to a slow start as several top players were loaned out to AHL clubs for long stretches of the season — Alex Kile, Lewis Zerter-Gossage, Michael Kim, among others. Using 54 players throughout the season, the Mariners relied upon depth and balanced contributions on both ends to qualify for the playoffs.
33-31-8, 83 points, 4th in North Division
The Maine Mariners needed a little time to find its footing, beginning the season with a fresh roster and a new affiliation. After a 5-3-2 start through 10 games, Maine won just three of its next 13 contests and entered the Christmas break three games under .500 on the year.
Maine eventually righted the ship, going 11-4-1 out of the holiday break and into February. But streaky play and a lack of consistency in the lineup plagued Maine at times. Maine lost six straight in mid-February before turning around to win five of its next six.
Part of the reason behind the resurgence was the acquisitions of Zach Malatesta and Stefanos Lekkas to sure up the defense. Lekkas carried the team’s defense for much of the season, playing over 2000 minutes and earning 20 wins.
Despite some new faces and talent on the back end, Maine played .500 hockey throughout March and April. With the season winding down, Maine got some reinforcements with Alex Kile returning from a long loan in the AHL and won its last three games to earn the fourth and final playoff spot and a matchup with top-seeded Reading.
Maine lost the series 4-2, but after going down 2-0 on the road fought back to even the series on home ice. In Game 5, Maine twice tied the game after falling behind early in periods, but a late Reading goal gave them the win and the series lead heading home.
After taking an early lead in Game 6, Reading proved too much to handle and took home the series with a 2-1 win. A tough end to an up-and-down season, but one that provided valuable experience and showed the true character of the group.
Player of the Year: Mathew Santos
Through 53 games, Santos notched 26 goals and 33 assists (59 points) to average more than a point per game for the season. A plus-8 for the season, Santos was a consistent scorer and provided a balance of playmaking and goal-scoring to lead the Mariners. Of his 26 goals, only six came on the power play and two were shorthanded.
- Cameron Askew — The forward scored 23 goals, with 10 coming on the power play including a PPG in five straight games. His 69 games were a team high this season as were his 216 shots.
- Nick Master — Another top-line forward who had a strong year, leading the team with 37 assists to just 26 penalty minutes.
- Zach Malatesta — The blue-liner provided 34 assists on the season and was one of the team’s top defenseman consistently.
- Stefanos Lekkas — Acquired midway through the season, the netminder led the team in minutes played by a goaltender and posted a 20-15-1 record with a 2.87 goals against average.
The Mariners announced their season-ending roster with 20 players sticking around for next season. One of those is a goaltender, Michael Lackey, arrives to complete a trade with the Indy Fuel that sent Malatesta to the Mariners along with future considerations.
Among the returners are top forwards Askew, Master, and Santos while Lewis Zerter-Gossage, Pascal Laberge, and Keltie Jeri-Leon will also be back next season. On defense, Malatesta and Michael Kim headline a young but improving group.
Goaltending is the big question mark next season for Maine with Lackey currently the only netminder on the roster. The position was a bit of a revolving door at times until Lekkas and Jeremy Brodeur provided some stability. Lekkas has chosen to ply his trade in Europe next season while Brodeur is still on the books for Providence. Brodeur and Callum Booth are both 25, so its likely Maine could look to add some younger talent in the offseason.
Defense also remains an issue. Maine had no problem scoring goals last season and returns several key contributors up top. However, there were games that finished 9-7 or 8-6 on a few occasions and other lopsided losses for Maine throughout the year. The organization will need to develop defenseman fast, so building depth at the position is critical this summer.