- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland Pirates have signed a new five-year lease with the Cumberland County Civic Center, a deal that probably will make it easier for the Washington Capitals to shift their American Hockey League affiliation to Hershey, Pa.

The Pirates also said they have signed Chris Bourque, the 19-year-old forward who left Boston University last week, to an amateur tryout contract. Bourque, taken by the Caps as the 33rd overall pick in last June’s draft, is scheduled to play in the Pirates’ last six games of the season.

Washington officials have steadfastly refused to comment on moving their top farm team from Portland to Hershey, acknowledging only that it was one of many rumors circulating. The Caps have one year left on their affiliation with the Pirates.

However, the new lease in Portland — and planned improvements to the 29-year-old building — might make it easier for the Caps to help the Pirates start a different affiliation. It is believed the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim will move their AHL franchise from Cincinnati to Portland, relieving the Caps of their obligation to the Pirates.

The Caps conducted their training camps at Hershey from the late 1970s through the mid-‘80s when the Bears were their top farm team. The Colorado Avalanche had been Hershey’s AHL affiliate, but the Bears asked the NHL club last month to find another location for the few players it wished to farm out.

Location is one reason the Caps might wish to move back to Hershey. It is about a two-hour drive from MCI Center, compared to 10 hours to Portland. The Bears’ Giant Center is less than three years old, but the condition of the arena in Portland has been a bone of contention.

Bourque played last night at Portland against Manchester, N.H., and is scheduled to play today in Worcester and tomorrow in Lowell in a swing through Massachusetts. Last night’s action was Bourque’s first since withdrawing from college after the Terriers were ousted from the playoffs.

Bourque, a freshman and son of Hall of Fame defenseman Raymond Bourque, will receive room, board and transportation money but retain his amateur status. He probably will play for Moncton, New Brunswick, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League next season.

Coming out of prep school, Bourque was considered one of the top forwards in the nation. He chose BU to stay close to his family but conceded that going to class was not one of his top priorities.

“I want to be a professional hockey player,” he said yesterday. He is just 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds but does not consider his size a problem.

“He wants to play at this level, and I think it gives us an opportunity to watch him,” Portland coach Tim Army said. “And this gives him an opportunity to see how he plays at this level.”

Under normal rules, the Caps now would have two years to sign Bourque to a pro contract, but that process has been put in limbo because of the season-long NHL lockout, which shows no sign of letting up.

Bourque had 10 goals and 23 points for BU in 35 games, seeing limited action because he was a freshman. Still, he led the Terriers in shots with 115 and was second in penalty minutes with 50. He also was a unanimous choice for the Hockey East all-rookie team.

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