GLENDALE -- The Portland Pirates will begin their 20th season - and their second as the Coyotes’ top affiliate in the American Hockey League – on Saturday night with a road game at the Adirondack Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y.
Because of the ongoing labor negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA, the AHL will temporarily take center stage in the North American pro hockey community.
“It’s a great time to get excited about the American league because not only is the level of competition going to be as high as it’s ever been, but the attention these players are going to get will be as high as it’s ever been,” said Coyotes Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving, who also serves as G.M. of the Pirates.
All around the AHL, some young players who would have been playing for NHL teams at this time instead will be starring for the top affiliate of their NHL teams.
Defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a prime example. Ekman-Larsson, who had a breakout season with the Coyotes in 2011-12, will start this season by playing for Portland in the AHL. He will anchor a solid defensive unit that includes Chris Summers, Michael Stone and Brandon Gormley.
“Our strength is definitely going to be our defense,” said captain Alex Bolduc, a forward. “We’ve got guys that played in the NHL last year (Ekman-Larsson, Stone and Summers) and we definitely have one of the top “D” corps in the league, by far. We’ve got several guys who should be in the NHL right now, but because of the lockout we’re lucky enough to have them here.”
Chad Johnson, who has 136 AHL games on his resume, has been named the starting goaltender. Mark Visentin, who is entering his first year as a pro, will be the backup.
The Pirates are a young team when it comes to forwards with many first- and second-year pros.
|Ray Edwards. Photo by Norm Hall. |
“Scoring goals is going to be a challenge for us,” Head Coach Ray Edwards said. “We’re going to have to do it by committee, and we’re going to have to have everybody all in. There will be no individuals - it will have to be a full team effort all the time.”
Forwards to watch include alternate captains Jordan Szwarz and Andy Miele, who notched 16 goals and 38 assists in 69 AHL games last season, and newcomers Brendan Shinnimin, Chris Brown and Scott Arnold.
Center Jordan Martinook, whom the Coyotes selected with the 58th overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, will begin the season on the sideline after suffering a lower-body injury in the team’s final exhibition game. His status is considered week-to-week.
The Pirates posted a 1-1-1 record in three exhibition games, and Edwards liked what he saw with regards to the team’s intensity and commitment.
“We have a team that has an extremely good work ethic so we know that will be there every night,” Edwards said. “But there’s still a ton of work to do and we’re still learning about each other. We do have some returning guys who understand the way we do things here, but we’re trying to relay that message on to some of the younger players that have joined us. So, we’re tweaking some things and we’re getting ready to go on Saturday. We’re confident the guys will be ready to go.”
The players are eager to play their first home game on Oct. 19.
“We’ve got some real die-hard fans here,” Bolduc said. “We’re fortunate to play in such a nice city, right close to the water, and to have fans that are so into hockey.”
FORWARDS: Scott Arnold, Evan Bloodoff, Alexandre Bolduc, Darian Dziurzynski, Chris Brown, Chris Conner, Brett Hextall, Rob Klinkhammer, Phil Lane, Jordan Martinook, Andy Miele, Joel Rechlicz, Brendan Shinnimin, Jordan Szwarz, Ethan Werek
DEFENSEMEN: Mathieu Brodeur, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Maxim Goncharov, Brandon Gormley, Mark Louis, David Rundblad, Michael Stone, Chris Summers
GOALIES: Chad Johnson, Mark Visentin