Maine Hockey Journal

New look Pirates hit the ice for the first time

AHL Portland Pirates 2015-2016 Training Camp. MHG Ice Arena in Saco, Maine on 9/29/2015. (Photo by Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates).

AHL Portland Pirates 2015-2016 Training Camp. MHG Ice Arena in Saco, Maine on 9/29/2015. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

SACO – Still the same team by name, the Portland Pirates will have a brand new look this season.

It won’t only be new uniforms that the Pirates will be sporting, but gone are the names Jordan Martinook, Henrik Samuelsson, and Brendan Shinnimin. Fans will now have to get used to hearing the names Logan Shaw, Kyle Rau, and Josh Brown.

The Pirates will also preach a whole new style of play.

The Pirates held its first on-ice session at the OA Sports Center Tuesday as the new American Hockey League affiliate of the Florida Panthers.

Last season, the Panthers’ AHL affiliate was located in San Antonio before coming to terms with Portland on a new four-year agreement. Likewise, the Pirates ended a four-year run with the Arizona Coyotes, who moved its affiliation to Springfield, Mass.

The Panthers’ AHL affiliate, San Antonio Rampage, finished last season with a 45-23-7-1 record, earning a division title and the third seed in the Western Conference. A first-round playoff defeat to the Oklahoma City Barons left a bitter taste by many in the organization. Led by Tom Rowe, who becomes the eighth head coach in Portland’s 23 seasons, he expects to improve upon last year’s result.

“We feel that we have a good team,” said Rowe. “We expect to be in the playoffs. Not just to make it, but to be on a long run.”

“We expect to win the Calder Cup. There is no other way about it. We not just here to develop players. We are here to win. The only way you develop is to win and winning the Calder Cup is the goal.”

Rowe, along with his assistant Scott Allen, both Massachusetts natives, pushed an upbeat tempo for much of the two-hour practice only stopping briefly on occasion to provide instruction on a dry erase board that was suctioned to the glass.

Rowe said this was a typical practice as he preached three points: Competition, execution, and pace.

“Scott and I really like the work ethic,” he said. “We thought the guys did exactly what we wanted them to do from a work ethic standpoint, and that’s first and foremost. We want to play at a very high pace during the game and control the puck,” Rowe said. “We’ve got the guys to do all three. We just need a week or so to get the guys into a comfort level.”

With only 25 players in camp, it’s an opportunity for Rowe, Allen and the rest of the Panthers’ hockey operations staff to evaluate. The Panthers have 31 players remaining in their camp, and another round of cuts is expected within the next few days as they finalize their 23-man roster before opening night less than two weeks away.

Rowe said that it’s that constant evaluation that will determine who stays in the lineup and who doesn’t receive playing time.

“Every day they are getting evaluate whether it’s in practice or games,” Rowe said. “We told them to practice as hard as you play. If you don’t practice as hard, you may not play, and that goes across the board. Ultimately, we’re not worried about that. We’ve got a really good group of guys. It’s going to come down to competition and practice as to who will play, who will get ice time and that’s the beauty when we have that much depth.”

Rowe added that he only plans to carry 22 players (13 forwards, 7 defensemen, 2 goalies) on the roster. If the team needs a player they’ll just reach out to the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs, only 90 mins away from Portland.

We’re big believers in the ECHL,” Rowe said. “We think it’s an excellent development league as well. The beauty is we can jump in the car and watch them play. The guys need to know that you care about them and that you are interesting them and let them know you are there for them. It won’t be fun when we have to cut some guys, but some guys learn faster than others.”

The lone familiar face in the lineup is goaltender Mike McKenna.

McKenna signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Panthers at the start of free agency on July 1. He said the fit for the organization was perfect for him as he still aspires to get back to the National Hockey League, but also that Portland remained in the cards for him.

I’m so excited,” he said. “It’s not every day that an affiliation changes and you get to stick around. It just one of those scenarios where everything worked out perfectly. With Florida, it was a great opportunity, but in the back of my head it was ‘Portland’ if that’s where I ended up. It was a big win, and we’re really excited.

McKenna has often glowed about playing Portland. He spent the 2007-08 season with the Pirates during their affiliation with the Anaheim Ducks and again last season under the Coyotes’ affiliation.

It’s a community that really embraces us. We’ve made some lifelong friends here. We met them through hockey in the first place, but they’re our friends and we enjoy coming to visit. We enjoy where we live. There aren’t many places where you can see seals and eagles. It’s a really special place. I think it’s one of the best cities in pro hockey in North America.

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