During the 1996-1997 season, the Portland Pirates faced a number of challenges, but they stared down adversity all season long, in the process setting the franchise record for the quickest-two goals in franchise history.
Portland, ME – The island of Newfoundland is known for many things.
Affectionately referred as “The Rock” – not to be compared with the other rock in San Francisco – St. John’s Newfoundland is very a picturesque place to visit with its quaint seaport and George St. – a place one must visit much like Portland’s Old Port.
Maybe that’s why the Portland Pirates felt so much at home during their weekend trip to “the rock” in March 1997. It reminded them of the comforts of Portland.
The Pirates playing back-to-back games at Memorial Stadium in St. John’s (former home of the St. John’s Maple Leafs) found themselves down in both games. Hard work and good timing with a little bit of luck helped the Pirates earn much the much needed points in their fight with the Springfield Falcons for a playoff berth in the Atlantic Division, making this one of the top-10 moments in franchise history.
The 1996-97 season was an interesting time for the Pirates. As the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, the team, just a year removed from going to the Calder Cup Finals against the Rochester Americans, were in flux for much of that season due to players going up and down between Portland and Washington. In fact, prior to the first game of the weekend against St. John’s, defenseman Eric Charron and Stewart Malgunas were recalled to Washington. It was Charron’s eighth recall to the Capitals that season, if that’s any indication of type of season it was for the Pirates.
However, the team would persevere as they’ve done all year under head coach Barry Trotz.
“Losing is contagious, it’s a disease,” said Trotz in an interview with the Portland Press Herald. “If it doesn’t bother you to win or lose, you’re going to lose.”
It was that attitude, he instilled into his players and it showed under his four years with the Pirates.
In game one of the weekend, the Pirates were down 5-2 going into the third period against the Maple Leafs with the help of a pair of goals by defenseman Nathan Dempsey.
“We had a little conference after the second period, a little summit meeting,” said Trotz in that same interview. “Both (assistant coach) Paul (Gardner) and I expressed our opinions and asked that they do one thing: show up for the third period.”
They certainly did that…
At 5:38, Kent Hulst scored his second goal of the game to get things started for Portland as just 13 seconds later Steve Poapst (his first goal in 50 games with the Pirates) scored to pull the Pirates within one goal. The goal was just shy of the team franchise record for the quickest two-goals in franchise history, but it put Maple Leafs into panic mode for the remainder of the game.
It would cost them with 55 seconds left in the third period when Jaroslav “Yogi” Svejkovsky nailing a cross-ice feed from Andrew Brunette past Leafs goalie Doug Bonner to secure the 5-5 tie.
While it wasn’t a win, it was a point and what was most impressive was the reaction of the players on the ice. Sometimes, a team maybe down by three goals and we tend to comment how they are just going to pack it in, but that wasn’t the case for this group of players. They were playing for pride, pride of the logo on the front of the jersey.
The next night, the Pirates were able to get the 5-3 win in dramatic fashion as they once again found themselves down 3-1 after 20 minutes of play.
Midway into the second period, the Pirates would get goals from Benoit Gratton and Dan Laperriere just five seconds apart to pull even with the Leafs, once again putting them on their heels.
“That one sunk them,” said Hulst. “It got their fans on them, and it set some doubt in their minds.”
The previous night the Pirates scored two goals within 13 seconds of each other, so Pirates had to find a way to improve, which they did on the goals by Gratton and Laperriere just five seconds apart, tying the AHL record for the quickest two goals scored in a period, which still stands today. It also set the franchise record for a quickest two goals scored in a period for the Pirates, breaking the previous record of seven seconds, set back in 1994 by Martin Jiranek and Michel Picard in a game against the Hershey Bears.