When the season began for the Portland Pirates there were a lot of questions still unanswered, but now as the Pirates approach the end of their first month of the regular season, the answer to those questions are starting to be revealed.
The Pirates, who travel to Springfield tonight, to take on the Falcons currently sit in first place in the Atlantic Division with a 5-1-0 record and have done it with a fairly balanced roster.
Even the player’s themselves didn’t know what to expect from the roster when they first hit the ice in early October.
“We’ve got a good mix of players here,” said Pirates defenseman Tim Conboy. “We have older guys and obviously some younger guys so we didn’t really know how we’d mesh right away, but with a 5-1 record we can’t complain about that.”
“There still things we can work on and there is a lot of improvement (to be made) so that’s the scary thing, the sky is the limit for this team. It’s just what we want to work for.”
Portland, ranked near the top of the AHL in goals scored, is averaging nearly four goals a game. On defense, the Pirates have been a stingy crew in giving up goals, as they’ve allowed only 15 goals in their first six games of the season which includes five goals surrendered on opening night against the Manchester Monarchs.
The defense, which was considered to be the weak link for the Pirates, as proven to be resilient by averaging only two goals allowed a game in their last five contests.
Before the puck dropped in Portland, the Pirates’ AHL affiliate, the Buffalo Sabres were busy laying out a plan on how they wanted to assemble this year’s version of the Pirates. The execution of the plan was left up to Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen, but the Sabres known for cultivating their talent through the draft, knew they’d had several players who could provide the talented skill needed in order to be successful.
Pirates rookie Luke Adam, a second round draft pick of the Sabres, was labeled from the beginning as a potential player that could provide the Pirates with an offense threat.
Added to the roster were veteran’s free agents Matt Ellis, Mark Parrish, Colin Stuart and Tim Conboy.
It was just making sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit together for Portland.
“I like our mix (of players). As always I like to judge people on their character as people, and I’m really enthused that we have a good bunch of people,” said Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen. “I think we’ve got diverse skills and talents that we can bring to a team so we’re encouraged early on.”
None are particularly flashy players. Parrish has had the longest career in the NHL, playing 720 games, but they all fit within Dineen’s mindset of team first and individual stats later.
“You want to surround your team with guys who play the game a certain way,” said Dineen. “We also want to have real quality depth for the Buffalo Sabres, and that’s part of the reason for signing of a Colin Stuart, Mark Parrish and Matt Ellis. Those guys could go up and play tonight and very easily step right into an NHL lineup, not look out of place and contribute to the success for Buffalo.”
“We have a lot of guys that sincerely play hard, play for their teammates, understand what their situation is and enjoy coming to the rink every day.”
The skill of the Pirates has been on display since the start of the season. Adam leads all rookies in scoring and is tied with Mark Mancari for second in league scoring. Mancari leads the AHL is plus/minus with a plus-7 rating through six games. Pirates captain Matt Ellis is tied for second with a plus-6 rating, but what’s been more noticeable has been the chemistry and camaraderie displayed by the team.
“It definitely feels that way,” said Mancari. “We’ve always had great guys in the organization. I think this year with a wide mix of players everyone is jelling extremely well. Everyone is willing to learn, willing to listen and ask questions.”
“That makes a big difference.”
NOTES: Defenseman TJ Brennan is back in the lineup for tonight’s game along with forward Maxime Legault as Nick Crawford and Jacob Lagace are healthy scratches. Somebody’s winless streak will end tonight as Portland is 0-1-0 on the road, while the Falcons have yet to win, going 0-2-0, at the MassMutual Center.