Maine Hockey Journal

Pirates are kings of the AHL; not waiting for others to knock them off

Portland, ME – It nice to be on a winning streak, much like the one the Portland Pirates are enjoying right now. They know it won’t last forever, but they want to make sure it last for as long as possible.

The Pirates, winners of their last six games, will head to Hartford on Wednesday to begin a stretch of games that could either cement the Pirates as one of the top teams in the AHL or tighten the Atlantic Division standings.

They know what’s at stake….

“We’ve been working hard and really haven’t let it go to our head,” said Pirates defenseman Mike Weber. “It still early in the season and it’s only going to get harder from here. Once you’re on top everyone kind of wants to be the team to knock you (out of first).”

“It doesn’t matter who the team is or what their record is. They just want to take you out and it’s only going to get harder from here.”

The Pirates are off to one of the hottest starts in franchise history, only coming close to the 1994-95 team, which went 14-0-3 to start the season. Still, it’s an impressive feat the Pirates have managed to accomplish as they approach the third month of the season. It really can be attributed to the balance of veterans and rookies on the team. Lead by fourth-year pro, Mark Mancari is looking to take the next step and assert himself, as a plausible candidate should the Sabres come calling for a forward. In 13 games, he’s scored 11 goals, 13 assists for 24 points that has him tied for second is AHL scoring. He’s also ranked fifth in the AHL in goals and assists.

Centering his line is rookie Tim Kennedy, and who would have thought when the season began he would have been such a scoring machine (4g, 15a), but more than that has been his consistency, scoring a point in 12 of 13 games this season.

Not to be forgotten is Nathan Gerbe, who has also put up impressive numbers, scoring 12 goals, seven assists for 19 points for third in AHL scoring. He second in the AHL in goals scored, first in power play goals scored with six and tied with Pirate teammate Tim Kennedy for the lead in the AHL rookie-scoring race.

Their contribution has not been lost by their teammates.

“They’re just outstanding players,” said Pirates forward Colin Murphy. “They work just as hard as a third or fourth line guys. It’s pretty amazing for 20-year old kids to come in here and do that.”

That sentiment hasn’t been lost on Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen, who has spent the last four seasons as the Pirates’ head coach grooming players like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Shannon and Bobby Ryan. Now his task is to prepare Gerbe and Kennedy for that next step.
“We have some high-end talent and guys off to good starts,” he said. “They’ve been consistent and good almost every night.”

So far, with the scoring prowess of Mancari, Kennedy and Gerbe and the added scoring of offensive forward Mathieu Darche, the Pirates have averaged 4.08 goals per game, but it shouldn’t detract away from the defense, who has only allowed 2.62 goals per game.

“It really exciting to see the strength of our blueline,” said Dineen. “It’s been really good for us (this season).”

The test begins on Wednesday night in Hartford, before heading to Providence, RI where Portland will play the Bruins for the first time at the Dunkin Donuts Center. Dineen will have the troops ready, but they still have to play the games.

“That’s a tough stretch for us,” said Dineen. “All we’ve done is split Providence and Hartford is a great opponent. So we’ll have our hands full.”

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With recent injuries hit the Buffalo Sabres, they done a good job at not pulling players from Portland unless they absolutely had no choice. The only player to date, who has made the trip from Portland to Buffalo was Mike Weber and he’s was pleasantly surprised at easy it was. In the past, a player only had to hop in his car and make the trek down the Thruway, after Buffalo ended their 29-year affiliation with the Rochester Americans the travel is a little more involved, but Weber said he doesn’t mind with the benefits of playing in Portland.

“Getting called up to Rochester was easier – only an hour and 10 minute drive from rink to rink,” he said. “When you’re called up (from Portland) you’re so excited it takes some of edge from the plane ride. It was easier in Rochester, but we have a better situation here with development and having a great city.

Weber also doesn’t mind the travel schedule compared to Rochester’s as Portland’s longest trip was an 11-hour bus ride to Norfolk, VA. He points to the immediate benefits of playing with the Pirates after spending last season with the Amerks.

“The travel has been much easier when compared to Rochester, our long trip (to Norfolk) is out of the way and our longest road trip is like three hours,” Weber said with a look of relief. “You’re sleeping in your own bed almost every night and that’s a good thing. It’s been a great thing early, a lot better than in Rochester, not just because of the losing, but we’re winning and this is a good city we have here with the fan support.

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