When it was announced on May 4 that the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates were relocating to Springfield, Massachusetts, an opportunity presented itself to the University of Maine men’s hockey program to book more games in Portland for the upcoming season.

And UMaine athletic administrators jumped on the chance.

As a result, for the first time in the history of the program, UMaine will play three individual games at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland this season with the opponents being Hockey East rivals Boston College and Notre Dame and ECAC team Brown University.

UMaine has played three games in Portland during a season before, but two of those games always came in a tournament format like last season when the Black Bears met Michigan State and North Dakota in the Ice Breaker Tournament before facing the University of New Hampshire in a nonconference contest.

UMaine head hockey coach Red Gendron said they will play just one nonleague game against Hockey East rival New Hampshire this season instead of two, and it will be played in Manchester, New Hampshire. They will play a nonleague game in Portland during the 2017-18 season.

The previous two years, the two teams played two nonleague games each year, one in Portland and one in Manchester, to go with two league games in Orono and Durham, New Hampshire.

This will also mark the first time since the hockey program returned in 1977-78 that they have played two league games in a season in Portland. The BC and Notre Dame games will be part of a two-game set against each team with the other game being played at the Alfond Arena in Orono.

Dates are expected to be released on Friday.

“Nobody was happy to see the Pirates leave town, but that created an opportunity to bring more quality hockey to Portland. We have a lot of fans and alums there,” said Seth Woodcock, UMaine’s associate director of athletic development.

Woodcock noted that the Black Bears always play one game in Portland and that probably would have been the case if the Pirates hadn’t left. But when they did, the Cross Insurance Arena’s schedule opened up and “it made a lot of sense” to book a few more games there.

He said Matt Herpich, the general manager of the Cross Insurance Arena, has been a “great partner.”

UMaine has drawn extremely well in Portland, attracting an average of 4,955 per game over the past eight games. The Black Bears drew a sellout crowd of 6,183 when they faced New Hampshire in 2014-15.

Woodcock said the games in Portland have been money-makers for the university. They lease the facility and earn revenue from ticket sales.

“I feel very good about it,” said Gendron. “It’s important that we create opportunities for our fans in the southern part of the state to watch us.

“The fact of the matter is that we’re the only Division I sports program in the state,” he said. “We belong to the folks up north because they have supported us for years and years, but we also belong to the rest of the citizens of this state.

“We would play in other venues around the state if they were big enough to meet our economic needs,” Gendron added.

“To be honest, if there were 6,000-seat arenas in Fort Kent, Washington County or Farmington, we would look to schedule games there,” Woodcock said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to play at the Alfond. We just want to expand our brand.”

He said by playing in Portland, UMaine could gain some new fans who could find their way to Orono to watch the Black Bears like he did when he was 6.

“Once you watch college hockey, if you’re a sports fan at all, you’ll fall in love with the sport,” he said.

Woodcock said season-ticket holders will be offered two packages, one including the three Portland games with a reduced rate for the Portland games, and another without the three-game Portland package.

UMaine has suffered dwindling home attendance in the wake of a long dry spell and has missed the NCAA Tournament eight times over the past nine years after making nine straight tourney appearances.

UMaine averaged 3,923 per game this past season, the lowest in over 25 years. The previous low in recent years occurred in 1991-92 when the Black Bears averaged 4,024 per game.

Season-ticket holder Doug Damon and Mike Rolnick offered varying opinions on the Portland games.

“We need to revitalize everything,” said Damon. “They aren’t selling out the home games so they need to open it up a little bit. By playing in southern Maine, you’re bringing alums back into the program. There are a lot of alumi down there. And it raises revenue, which is what the university needs.”

He pointed out that there are 900 members in the Casco Bay youth hockey program.

“It I had to vote yay or nay, I’d vote nay,” said Rolnick. “But it’s not the end of the world. I’m not going to get rid of my season tickets.”

Will Biberstein, the associate athletic director for internal operations, said university administrators are working with the Maine Sports Commission to submit a bid to host an NCAA hockey regional in Portland.

“We have to submit a preliminary proposal by the end of June,” said Biberstein.

He said the NCAA will mull over the bids during the fall and announce the successful bids in December.