April 1, 2010

Maine Moose hockey team sold

Gray follows dream to purchase team once done playing

By Bill Stewart bstewart@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Ben Gray said it's been a dream of his to own a hockey organization after his playing days were over.

The dream became reality Tuesday for Gray, who purchased the Maine Moose of the International Junior Hockey League from Steve Levesque and Tom McBrierty.

"This is something I've always wanted to do," said Gray, 27, who helped coached the Maine Moose Super Elite the previous two seasons after retiring from professional hockey. "When I moved back to Maine, I knew this was something I really wanted to do."

Terms of the sale were not disclosed, although South Jersey Raptors owner Matt Lemma said it usually costs about $10,000 to buy an IJHL team.

"If they got $10,000 for the Moose, then that is a good deal," said Lemma, who also coaches the Raptors.

Levesque, who founded the Moose in 2006, said in a statement: "I am very pleased that Ben Gray has taken over the reins of the Moose. He has a great hockey pedigree and the right attitude and work ethic to carry on the college development tradition established by the program's founders."

Levesque said it was time to move on.

"It's been a great experience, we've been doing it for four years, but it was time to do other things," Levesque said.

Added McBrierty, "I'm 63-years-old and I would rather be doing things other than hanging around hockey rinks on weekends. I think it will be a seamless transition."

Gray, a 2001 St. Dominic Regional High School graduate who won two Class A state hockey titles, said he would retain Super Elite coach Chad Foye.

Gray, however, acknowledged there would be changes to the program, which also features an Elite team.

"There's always going to be some change," said Gray, who played professionally for several teams in the East Coast Hockey League. "I want to take it to the next level. I want to get more Maine kids involved. My big thing, my No. 1 thing, is to make the Maine Moose a household name. It's an excellent opportunity."

Time will tell if it will also be profitable, said Charlie Nielsen, IJHL commissioner.

Nielsen said Levesque and McBrierty informed the league of a potential sale about a month ago.

"They came to us and said it may happen," Nielson said. "So they have been approved. It's all set. We are glad they are staying there because Maine is a good spot. But this is not a big money-making league as far as management goes.

"If (Gray) turns it around and does it right, he can make a few thousand a year."

The IJHL, which has seen several teams come and go in the last two years, struggled financially last season, Nielsen said.

"It didn't make any last year," Nielsen said. "I think we ended up with $3,000 or $4,000 in the bank."

Nielsen added teams pay the league about $4,000 annually for expenses.

Lemma said it costs "no less than $100,000 a year" to run an IJHL team.

"And that's a real lowball figure," he said. "It's more like $150,000."

IJHL programs charge players anywhere from $5,000 to $9,000 a year, which helps pay for the franchise.

Gray, a former goalie who played for Utah and Cincinnati in the ECHL, said he hopes to increase awareness for the program.

"I want to get 500, 1,000 fans at every game," he said. "I know it will take some time. It won't happen overnight. But one of my big things is that I'd like to see more interest in Maine kids.

"I know what to expect because I have played at every level. The kids coming into the program want to be pushed to get to the next level. I want to send more kids to colleges."

Gray also added that he plans to forge a stronger relationship with area high schools.

"I definitely don't want to take kids away from high school teams," Gray said. "We need to build a better relationship with coaches in Maine."

Added Winslow High School boys coach Corey Lessard: "I hope they stay true to their word. I think they were going in a pretty good direction. There was a lot of talking."

The Moose will hold their one and only Maine tryout in the Kennebec Ice Arena on May 23.

Until then, Gray is eager to get going.

"We have a couple of things planned," he said. "We're just very excited."

Bill Stewart -- 623-3811, ext. 515


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