PORTLAND, Maine — If the Maine Mariners are feeling a sense of deja vu heading into their season opener, they are determined to break the cycle.
Just like last year, their opponent to begin the 2019-2020 is the Adirondack Thunder. Their first meeting ended in a loss for the Mariners. Head Coach Riley Armstrong says his team is is putting in the work for a different outcome this time.
Armstrong visited the NEWS CENTER Maine studios on the eve of the game to discuss his team's preseason regimen on the MORNING REPORT.
"I feel we're looking pretty good," Armstrong told NEWS CENTER Maine Sports Director Jess Gagne. "We have a lot of experience mixed with a little bit of youth. And I think we have some old time Mariner hockey I think we're gonna bring back a little bit, too. So hopefully the fans like that."
As one of those trusted veterans, Zach Tolkinen was reinstated as team captain this week. He also held the title in in the Mariners' inaugural season last year.
Tolkinen is a 29-year-old defenseman from Lino Lakes, Minn. His strong performance with the Mariners last year earned him a call-up to the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL. After spending training camp with Hartford, he was assigned once again to Maine.
Armstrong had high praise for Portland as a hockey town. "They're true fans of the game, they understand it," Armstrong said of Mainers. "When there's a bad call or a penalty that shouldn't have been called, they'll let the ref know."
In order for that home-ice advantage to have its full impact, the seats need to stay full at the Cross Insurance Arena. Armstrong said upcoming appearances by two notable Mainers, NHL referee Wes McAuley and Bruins broadcaster Dale Arnold, should give fans an extra reason to buy tickets.
A family-friendly atmosphere is also a big attraction. "It's good to see the parents bring their kids out," Armstrong said. "I think, even for our players during warmups, throwing pucks to the kids and things like that. It's just an added fan experience." Armstrong confessed that his own kids get so wrapped up in the fun of the arena that it's not always easy to keep up with them.
Don't be fooled by the soft side he shows to his family. Armstrong said he ran a hard training camp for the past two weeks and he wasn't letting up down the final stretch.
"I'm gonna have a little pep talk going this morning right before practice leading into tomorrow's game," Armstrong told Todd Gutner who, in addition to being Chief Meteorologist, is also a big sports fan. Todd asked if Armstrong plans his speeches in advance. Shaking Todd off, Armstrong responded that he prefers to talk to his players "right out of the heart."
All of Armstrong's preparations will come to a head with the game on Friday, October 11. The puck drops at 7:15 p.m.