Maine Hockey Journal

Pirates impress in home opening victory

Portland Pirates regular season contest against the Hershey Bears at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on 10/17/2015. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

Portland Pirates regular season contest against the Hershey Bears at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on 10/17/2015. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

PORTLAND – If first impressions count for anything the Portland Pirates can rest assured that it was a positive one.

The 4,275 in attendance for the home opener Saturday night at the Cross Insurance Arena voiced their opinion loud-and-clear following the Pirates 3-2 victory over the Hershey Bears.

“It was loud. The Scallywags – a fan group that sits in Section T and U – were waving flags,” said goaltender Mike McKenna. They were into it. Honestly, it felt like the 2007-‘08 audience. I hope that we can keep that up all year.”

McKenna, the lone holdover from the Arizona Coyotes regime, received the loudest ovation from the crowd during player introductions. He signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Pirates’ new NHL affiliate, Florida Panthers, over the summer.

“It was really cool,” McKenna said. “At this point in my career this truly feels like it feels like home. Hey, they remembered me, and they appreciate what I’ve done. It just makes you want to play that much harder.”

McKenna made 24 saves, including stopping 15 in the third period, to keep the Bears at bay.

It was the Pirates (1-1-0-0) first win on the season after dropping the season opener last weekend in Providence. The Bears are also 1-1-0-0 on the season.

From the opening puck drop, it was a different Pirates’ squad from years past. The team played more up tempo that kept the crowd engaged despite giving up the first goal of the game.

With the Pirates on a power play, Dustin Gazley took a feed from Liam O’Brien and fired a shot on McKenna, who made the initial save, but could stop the second shot for a short-handed goal at the 6:30 mark of the first period.

The Bears had an opportunity to make it 2-0 after having an extended five-on-three for 1:27 but failed to convert, giving the Pirates momentum heading into the second period.

Logan Shaw tied the game, 1-1, scoring the first of his two goals on the power play at less than three minutes into the second period. Pirates’ captain Brett Regner fired a shot from the point that was stopped by Bears’ goalie Justin Peters, but Shaw was there for the rebound.

Less than seven minutes later, Shaw put the Pirates out front, 2-1, after crashing the net and getting a loose puck, poking it past Peters.

“It was just garbage goals, but I’ll take them any way I can get them,” said Shaw.

“Obviously, special teams were a big part of (the win),” said Pirates coach Tom Rowe. “I thought the five-on-three that Hershey had was what really got us going and gave the whole bench momentum. I thought our power play had real good movement on it.”

At 15:51, Hershey tied the game at two goals apiece. Only 30 seconds after Portland was called for a bench minor – too many men on the ice – Jakub Vrana blasted a one-timer by McKenna.

With 1:09 left in the period, former Boston University star, Wade Megan put the Pirates back out front for good, 3-2.

“Just tried to make a play toward the middle that got broken up,” said Megan. “I was just able to follow up the play and get past the defenseman, I got a bit of a step on him, and just threw a backhand on net, and it found the five hole.”

The Bears had several opportunities to tie the game in the third period, but McKenna stood his ground, making several breathtaking saves with the help of his surrounding defensemen.

“I was pretty nervous when I made the save, and it squeaked next to me in front of an open net,” said McKenna. Thankfully, I got some really nice help from my defensemen.”

The Pirates and Bears will complete the two-game series in Portland Sunday afternoon at 3 pm.

“It was a great atmosphere,” said Rowe. “We know this is an excellent hockey market. The fans know what they are watching on the ice. If you’re not playing well, they’re going to let you know about it. We’ve got a good bunch of guys. Hershey is an excellent team. I thought it was a real good test against one of the top contenders in the league.”

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