Maine Hockey Journal

Junior Pirates carry high expectations into new season

SACO – The Portland Junior Pirates look to build on its second season in the United States Premier League.

Both the USPHL Premier and Elite teams took its bumps in its first season since joining the newly formed league last season. The Premier team went 14-30-4, losing to the Boston Jr. Bruins in the quarterfinals, while the Elite team fell to the Rochester Jr. Americans in the Elite quarterfinals after an eighth place finish in the Northern Division with a 16-25-2 record.

“First and foremost we want to get better from the start of the season to the end of the season,” said Jr. Pirates Premier coach Jeff Tory. “We want to make the playoffs and get the highest possible spot in the standings for the playoffs. Ultimately, we want to win a championship.”

The Premier team, which is considered the highest division within the USPHL umbrella, will have a good core of players back from last season as the season begins on Saturday with a pair of games at the MHG Ice Centre against the South Shore Kings this weekend.

“We’re really happy with the mix we have. We have a good number of character guys coming back from last year,” Tory said. “We have that good solid core, like I said hard work, character and good habits who can lead by example on and off the ice.”

Several Mainers are returning to the lineup this season including former Biddeford High standout Brady Fleurent, Neil Maietta (South Portland), Eric Grover (Biddeford) and Sam Michaud (South Portland) that are expected to play a key role in the success of the team.

New to the Premier team this year is Michaud’s younger brother, Lucas Michaud, who has committed to the University of Maine for either the fall of 2015 or 2016. He split last season between the Jr. Pirates USPHL 18U team and Berwick Academy.

“Lucas is probably the strongest guy on the team and if not in the league,” said Tory, who also played at Maine. “He may only be 17, but he’s a boy in a man’s body. He has eight percent body fat, probably the strongest guy on our team. He’s lifting weights, he’s committed, and he’s skilled and very powerful. The one thing I like about him is that he can play the game anyway. If it’s run-and-gun he can do that, if it’s a power game or physical game, he can do that.”

Tory also said newcomers on the defense Brandon Zajicek and Ryan Jackson, who spent last season at the Pomfret School last year, are also expected to make an impact on the roster.

Zajicek is one of four new players who spent last season at the prestigious Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn. The school has produced many NHL stars including Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Jack Johnson, Nathan MacKinnon and many others. The school is also where Yarmouth native and Maine commit Oliver Wahlstrom will play this season on their Bantam Major team.

“I have high expectations for those guys,” Tory said. “They are coming from a winning program and they know what it takes to prepare and know what it takes to win. They are very good kids, they are very good players, we want to try to create a winning culture here so it’s no better to start by guys who are use to winning and expect to win.”

The other three players that attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s is Gavin O’Neil who will be on the Premier Team, while Evan Jamar and Connor Koch are set to start the year on the Elite Team.

The Elite team began its season last weekend at the Woodchuck Classic in Burlington, Vermont where they went 1-1 in league play under new head coach Kevin Kaminski.

Kaminski was hired to replace outgoing coach Doug Freidman, who left to become the new athletic director and head coach of the boys’ hockey program at Kents Hill School. Kaminski, who also has the title of Youth Skills and Development Coach, was hired after spending four seasons as the head coach of the Louisiana Ice Gators of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

Kaminski played professionally for 13 years and enjoyed some of his finest moments as a member of the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League including being a part of the franchise’s only Calder Cup championship in 1993-’94. Kaminski was inducted into the Portland Pirates Hall of Fame in 2000.

“I’m really excited to be back home,” Kaminski told WGME. “Working with these kids, teaching them how to be a better player, better person off the ice, and teach them how to be winners, and show them that mental toughness part of the game. I’m really excited about this opportunity to be back in Portland and work with these young kids.”

Besides winning going 1-1 in league action, the Jr. Pirates won its lone exhibition game against the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs.

“Up front have a few local guys who had really good seasons last season,” Tory said. They will be starting on the Elites, but have every opportunity (to move up). Dakota Keene, Kenny Richards and along with Joseph Vuolo, he’s really a high-skilled guy, we expect big things from those guys up front.”

Both teams will also have an international flair to the roster with a highly-skilled Swedish forward Rasmus Konstrand playing for the Premier team and defenseman Felix Wagner of Austria on the Elite team.

“We are in fierce competition for the kids in Massachusetts and the skilled players in particular,” Tory said. “Those two import spots are key. You have to do your homework the best you can. You try to add in our situation. We added a first line center. He has been everything we are hoping for and more. Same with the defenseman as an import, he’s big, solid and strong. He plays a two-way game and solid defensively who can jump up and play on the power play as well.”

Rasmus Kronstrand played for AIK U-20 team last year, scoring nine goals and nine assists in 45 games in the Swedish SuperElite league. Wagner played 14 games with Springfield Pics 18U USPHL team scoring twice and adding three assists.

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