Maine Hockey Journal

McKenna, Bolduc glad to call Portland home

Pirates' goaltender Mike McKenna is expected to play a vital role in the success of the franchise this season.  (Photo by Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

Pirates’ goaltender Mike McKenna is expected to play a vital role in the success of the franchise this season. (Photo by Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

PORTLAND – Mike McKenna and Alexandre Bolduc couldn’t be happier about returning to Portland this season as both players will play a crucial role in the revitalization of the Pirates return to the Cross Insurance Arena.

“I’m really excited,” said McKenna. “Portland was always one of the cities that I look back on with really fun memories. I felt like I had a really good connection. It was the first time that my wife and I truly spent a whole year together.”

“I loved my time here,” Bolduc said. It was something that I thought was right for me. I thought there was a good opportunity to play in Arizona. The way they made a good bid for me, and really wanted me was impressive. When a team wants you that bad it’s something, you have to think about. There were no negatives coming to Portland.”

Bolduc and McKenna are just a few of the veterans signed Pirates GM/Coach Ray Edwards during the offseason, adding depth on the blueline with the addition of Andrew Campbell, Dylan Reese and Patrick McNeill.

“I think to be successful in this league you have a veteran core which we have here,” McKenna said. “It shouldn’t be understated how hard ownership worked here to bring in leadership. We have that core, but on top of that we have to have really high end prospects that make it work. You see the teams that bring in veterans, and they just sort of squeak through you have to count on those younger players who can play the game.”

McKenna, 31, understands that he’s no longer considered a prospect. That doesn’t quell his drive to make it to the NHL as a number two goaltender or even a starter if the right opportunity was to arise. He played last season for the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets organization, spending the majority of the year with their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, but did see time in the NHL. McKenna appeared in four games with the Blue Jackets, which he called a meaningful experience.

“It’s something that I’m confident I can do well especially being in Columbus for a little over a month and playing games, meaningful games, and having the starts,” McKenna said. “It was a step in the right direction in my career to cross that bridge finally and realize that I can be a number two or three goalie in an organization. I don’t necessarily want my career to end at that level. I mean I’m 31, and the chances aren’t great, but if you get enough games, you never what can happen.”

As a 2002 sixth-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators, he played four years at St. Lawrence College before turning pro with the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers. He toiled around the minors until making a stop in Portland during the 2007-2008 season where he played under Kevin Dineen and the Anaheim Ducks affiliation.

The Pirates made to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals behind McKenna, and was just five minutes away from the 2008 Calder Cup Finals before a late goal by Chris Minard sent the game into overtime. Connor James would seal the victory only 20 seconds later.

“We always had good memories,” McKenna said. “It was a fun season. It fun was playing at the (Civic Center) and with the (renovation) changes it’s going to be even better. I really like this city a lot. It’s been one of the better cities where I’ve played.”

The St. Louis, MO. native signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization the following season, splitting time between the NHL and AHL’s Norfolk Admirals. He also made stops along the way in Lowell, Albany, Binghamton, and Peoria before signing with the Blue Jackets.

McKenna said he would have been at ease re-signing with the Blue Jackets, but they never offered him a contract. That’s when he turned his attention to other opportunities and Edwards showed significant interest in him as the Coyotes were looking for goaltending depth.

Besides looking to add depth just at the NHL level, the Coyotes also wanted to have a safety net in Portland and a goaltender that can help push prospects Mark Visentin, Louis Domingue and Mike Lee to the next level. Goaltending was just one of numerous issues last season and Edwards believes McKenna’s ability to mentor can help the goaltending core over the hump as they put one of the worst seasons in franchise history behind them.

McKenna has worked alongside several high-profile prospects that are now playing in the NHL, including Jake Allen (Peoria/St. Louis), Robin Lehner (Binghamton/Ottawa) and Karri Ramo in the Tampa Bay organization.

“With Mike, we knew what we were getting there,” said Edwards. “We have three young goalies that, even though they’ve played a couple years, they’re still young. If you look at goalies’ development as a whole, a lot of them, it takes some time. And we felt, to have a guy like Mike here to push them that would be a good thing.”

“Portland was at the top of my list once I learned the situation, and something that I took into account when I signed here,” McKenna said. “After the season last year and looking around the league I didn’t have Arizona on the radar, but the first day of free agency comes and to see the position that I could offer to them as a player. It was just a no-brainer to take that opportunity.”

For Bolduc, he’s back in a familiar place with the Coyotes organization after a year away, unlike McKenna, who played for the Pirates under a different affiliation.

The 29-year-old forward played last season for the Chicago Wolves after signing over the summer with their NHL parent club, St. Louis Blues. In 59 games, Bolduc finished with 18 goals, 19 assists for 37 points.

Bolduc played two seasons in Portland, appearing in 79 games for the Pirates during the Coyotes’ affiliation and was captain of the team during the 2012-’13 season.

“I’m really excited especially all the new changes and the way management went out and got guys here,” said Bolduc. “Starting with management right through to the players, guys are excited and the boys we have here are super close group.”

Bolduc was named captain of the Pirates in 2012-’13 and is likely to be in consideration for being captain this season. The Pirates are deep with veteran leadership with Andrew Campbell, Dylan Reese and Patrick O’Neill, who have all been captains on previous teams.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound forward said he’s not a “rah-rah” type of player, but a player that leads by example.

“It’s my 10th year pro,” he said. “I’m not going to change my game and spend time trying to reinvent the wheel now. Its hard work, and winning those one-on-one battles. I’ve got to be one of the best players by example. I try do things right and play the game the right way, and that will get back up top. I’ve got to lead by example. The way that I was taught is don’t do anything in the AHL that you wouldn’t do in the NHL. Don’t play a certain way in the AHL and not playing the right way if you wouldn’t do it in the NHL. Mike Keenan told me that, and it’s something that has stuck with me. Smart, hard and play the game right.”

Bolduc said that signing with the Wolves gave him an opportunity to win the Calder Cup. Not necessarily a chance to get back to the NHL with the depth in the St. Louis Blues organization, and how Wolves operates compared to other teams in the league.

“I went there, and their only one goal was to win the Calder Cup and they signed the best AHL players possible, but when that happens, it can go one or two ways. They made some trades, and it sorted it by the second half of the season.”

Bolduc and Edwards have always had a close relationship. Bolduc considers Edwards to be one of the best coaches in the AHL when it comes to communication and dealing with players on a one-on-one basis. Likewise, Edwards believes that Bolduc openness and ability to “say what’s on his mind” make him an effective leader.

“Ray is one of the better coaches when it comes to communicating that I’ve had,” Bolduc said. “He’s good at getting across what he wants to get across and doesn’t do it in a negative way where you’re afraid to talk to him or ask him questions. He’s really good at explaining stuff, and if you have a question, he’s really good at having you sit down. It shows. Guys like him here. We’re pretty fortunate to have him here. We’re definitely close. There is a lot of respect there between him and the players. When you know, your coach will do anything for you that you’ll do anything for that coach.

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