|Tim Kennedy (Photo: Heather Harvey) |
The Portland Pirates arrived at HSBC Arena on Monday morning to prepare for their debut in Buffalo. The Sabres’ AHL affiliate will play a home game away from home Tuesday night as they host the Albany River Rats at 7 p.m.
“There is a very noticeable buzz in our locker room about playing here in Buffalo,” Head Coach Kevin Dineen said. “We have a chance to get a feel of what we see on the TV all the time.”
The Pirates operate in Maine, nearly 600 miles away from the Queen City. The contest will be the first time that many of the Sabres’ prospects get to play in an NHL venue.
“I’m really excited,” Sabres Head Coach Lindy Ruff said. “They’ve gone through a ton of injuries but they’ve been able to hold it together… to see the team play is going to be fun to watch.”
The Pirates were without perennial scorer Nathan Gerbe
for six games after the forward suffered a concussion. Gerbe returned to Portland on Saturday and has since added two assists in as many games. He is tied with Mark Mancari to lead the team with 19 goals and is second in AHL rookie scoring with 45 points in 43 games.
Buffalo native Tim Kennedy has also battled injury after losing six teeth from taking a high-stick to the face in January.
Kennedy has continued to play despite the soreness, although he was temporarily wearing a full cage to protect his face. The centerman has 28 assists and 34 points though 45 games.
“He’s still not a very pretty smiler, but he’s at least able to keep food down and I think his energy level has improved with his health,” Dineen said. “He’s probably spent over 10 hours over four different days in the dental chair getting a full reconstruction done. It’s been a long road… and he’s had a tough go, but he’s played in the lineup and that says something about him.”
While losing two of their top forwards has been a difficult stretch, the majority of Portland’s short-handed afflictions have come at the expense of their defensemen. The Pirates have been without Mike Funk for most of the season with a concussion and have lost the services of several players who were recalled by the Sabres; including Chris Butler, Marc-Andre Gragnani and more recently Mike Weber
Dineen said he plans on playing five defensemen Tuesday night against Albany.
“We have played under-manned for a lot of this year. We basically have four kids that started in the East Coast [Hockey] League,” Dineen said. “It has put a real crimp in our lineup but you can keep getting bodies from the next level. For us it’s putting [in] the right personnel… they’ve done a good job.”
Despite the injuries, the Pirates have battled for a 26-20-1-3 record overall - ranking seventh in the Eastern Conference - and are coming off a 3-2 win against the Hershey Bears.
“We had a really solid, team effort last night so that was a good way to build on our game here in Buffalo,” Dineen said. “Overall we have kind of been up in down the last month or so. It’s a daily thing and we are very excited to get in here and we want to put our best skates forward.
“It’s special for all of us to come in and play in an NHL building … it’s an exciting night for us.”Jhonas Enroth
will likely get the start in net after taking a break Sunday night against Worcester. The rookie goaltender previously played the last 10 consecutive games for Portland.
Through 37 contests, Enroth has managed an 18-13-3 record as well as a .922 save percentage, ranking third among first-year goalies in the AHL.
“I love it,” Enroth said. “Every time I sit on the bench I hate it. I don’t think it’s fun so I love [playing].
“It’s really exciting coming to an NHL Arena, even just seeing Buffalo practice right now, you learn a lot
The Sabres are offering Family Packs for the event for $79.50. The package includes four 100 Level III tickets to the game, four hot dogs and sodas and one bag of popcorn.
For more information or to order call 1-888-467-2273 or click here.
Packages based upon ticket availability.