Portland, ME – Although the Portland Pirates have lost several key players to recent recalls and injuries, they are still finding ways to earn points.
Forward Corey Tropp scored a key goal in the third period and added the game winner in the shootout to give the Pirates a 3-2 win over the Hershey Bears before a crowd of 4,403 at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Tuesday night.
Earlier in the day, the Pirates lost forwards Mark Parrish and Luke Adam after they were recalled by Sabres, on top of already losing goaltender Jhonas Enroth, and leading team scorer Mark Mancari, who was recalled by the big club on Saturday.
However, in a game that carried a playoff feel to it, the victory – Portland’s fourth consecutive win and their fifth win in six games – moved the Pirates into a tie for first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division with the Manchester Monarchs, both having 83 points on the season. The Pirates still have three games in hand despite the Monarchs being idle on the night.
“We approached tonight as a playoff game,” said Pirates forward Colin Stuart. “Obviously, (Hershey) is one of the top teams in the league and so are we and we had a lot to prove.”
“We wanted to send a message throughout the league that we’re for real and I think we did that tonight.”
The Pirates, at one point today, were down to 16 skaters before they were able to sign Chris Blight from the Reading Royals to a PTO, and while neither the Pirates nor the Bear were at full strength. The Bears were without Keith Aucoin, Lawrence Nycholat and Andrew Gordon; nonetheless, Portland did what they had to do to do in order to secure two points in a game that carried a playoff atmosphere.
“We’ve got some really strong identity and good character,” said Pirates’ head coach Kevin Dineen. “Although, both teams are missing some key guys, it felt like it had some intensity to it.”
“Tonight’s the kind of night where we felt it was going to be a low scoring hard-fought game, and it turned out to be exactly that.”
Down 1-0 heading into the third period, the Pirates would strike early to get on the board when forward Mark Voakes found the back of the net.
Voakes playing in only his second game as a member of the Pirates since being signed to a PTO, dropped a pass back to Colin Stuart at the left point and drove to the net, tipping Stuart’s shot on net past Bears netminder Nolan Schaefer to tie the game at one goal apiece with 17:02 to play in the game.
The Pirates made it 2-1 with a power play goal when Corey Tropp snapped a shot from the right hash mark, which deflected off Schaefer’s glove into the net, for his ninth goal of the season.
“Tonight was an opportunity for guys to step up,” said Tropp. “It goes to the type of character in our locker room. The attention to detail is the same. The game plan is the same going into the game. We just have to work hard and I think we did a really good job.”
With 1:32 left in the game, the Bears, skating four-on-three, grabbed a power play goal of their own when Patrick McNeil let a wrist shot go from the top of the left circle past, tying the game at 2-2.
After a scoreless overtime, Tropp and Stuart each added goals in the shootout, while goaltender David Leggio stopped all four shooters he faced to improve to 3-for-27 against shooters in shootout situations.
Hershey opened the scoring in the first period when Mathieu Perreault spilt the Pirates defense and slipped a shot between the legs of Leggio.
Leggio made 30 saves, improving 17-4-4 on the season. Schaefer made 28 saves in the loss.
NOTES: Hershey center David de Kastrozza, who spent four seasons at the University of Maine was named to the Bears Clear Day roster on Tuesday. In his first AHL season, he has one goal, four assists for five points with a plus-4 rating in only 21 games.