After winning their first six games of the season at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the Portland Pirates are 6-2 and in first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division.
It seems like a good time to take the team on the road for a week to see what it’s all about.
That’s why the Pirates’ coaches and players are looking forward to spending the next week traveling to Virginia and North Carolina on the team’s longest trip of the season.
“We’re playing some good hockey right now, but there still are some things we know we have to work on,” Portland Coach Kevin Dineen said.
“Part of being a team is the chemistry and that is an important factor for us. There’s no better way to develop that than practicing together, playing together, sleeping in the same hotels and eating dinners together.”
Nothing brings a hockey team closer than spending a week out on the road.
“Anytime you go on the road, especially when you’re away from everything that goes on in your home life for any length of time, it’s a great opportunity to bond and come together as a team,” said forward Matt Ellis, in his ninth professional season. “It’s hard when you’re just at the rink with your teammates.
“When you’re on the road, you get to understand them as people. Everyone gets to know what everyone else is like outside your business, outside your profession.”
After practicing early this morning at Portland Ice Arena, the Pirates fly to Norfolk, Va., where they will play games against the Admirals Friday and Saturday nights.
On Sunday, the Pirates will travel by bus six hours to Charlotte, N.C., stopping on the way to have lunch in Durham.
On Monday, the Pirates will practice at about 11:30 a.m. at the 14,000-seat Time Warner Cable Arena.
After playing games against the Charlotte Checkers Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the Pirates will fly to Boston’s Logan Airport early next Thursday morning and return to Maine by bus.
When the Pirates went south to play games in the past, they usually traveled by bus. The team would stop on the way down or back to play in Pennsylvania, New York or Connecticut.
“It’s probably going to be exciting for a lot of guys who haven’t had the opportunity to fly in and play a game,” Ellis said. “It’s kind of a time where it starts to hit home they are pro hockey players. We’re flying in and taking care of business. It’s an exciting feeling. I know it was for me.”
“There’s no better way to travel,” said veteran forward Mark Parrish, who has spent 11 of his 13 pro seasons in the NHL. “On a long bus ride, you’re always trying to get comfortable. You’re trying to get your rest and you’re bouncing around. It’s hard on the body, physically, and it’s hard mentally.”
Since the first players began arriving in Maine Sept. 29, the Pirates have taken relatively quick bus trips to play games in Nashua, N.H.; Bridgeport, Conn.; and Springfield, Mass.
“It wasn’t as if there much time for a card game really or a chance to go out to dinner together,” Parrish said.
That will change over the next week.
“Instead of us old guys always running home to our families, which of course is really important when we’re at home, it is a chance to get to know your teammates,” Parrish said.
“For the next few months, I’m going to be see these guys more than I see my wife and kids. We’re going to get to know each other inside and out, and that will translate onto the ice.”
ROOKIE CENTER Luke Adam returned to practice with Pirates Wednesday morning after making his NHL debut with the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night in a 6-3 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Adam was called up Monday night to replace Rob Niedermayer, who stayed in Buffalo to be with his wife following the birth of their daughter.
In eight games with Portland, Adam has five goals and five assists to lead AHL rookies in scoring.
NOTES: After his first two starts of the season, Portland goalie David Leggio’s goals-against average of 1.44 and save percentage of .959 ranks second among AHL goalies with two or more starts. … Portland forward Mark Mancari has five goals and six assists for a team-high 11 points to rank among the AHL’s top five scorers. … Parrish and forward Colin Stuart carry three-game scoring streaks into Friday night’s game at Norfolk.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: