Igor Gongalsky, the newest member of the Portland Pirates, didn’t start out to be a hockey player.

Gongalsky, who turned 24 last month, began as a figure skater in his native Ukraine.

“When I was 2 or 3 years old I would tag along and skate with my sister. I can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure I was on figure skates,” he said. “When I was 5 or 6 years, I started fighting a lot during figure skating and they kicked me out. I had to switch.”

The switch took.

Gongalsky has been working toward a career in professional hockey ever since he immigrated to Canada with his mother and sister a decade ago.

After moving to Toronto, he played two seasons for teams in the Junior A Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League followed by three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League.

When Gongalsky played for OHL’s Owen Sound during the 2004-05 season, the Attack’s roster included future Anaheim Ducks right wing Bobby Ryan, Los Angeles Kings center Brad Richardson and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera. “It was a stacked team,” he said. “I was an older guy, but I was still a rookie, so I kept quiet and tried to learn.”

Two weeks ago, Gongalsky was called up from the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors to add a little more grit to the Portland lineup.

“We’ll keep him a while and see what he can do,” Portland Coach Kevin Dineen said.

Gongalsky has been on Dineen’s radar screen for some time.

In 2009, the 6-foot, 220-pound left wing participated in the Buffalo Sabres’ summer camp.

After spending his first three professional seasons with ECHL teams in California, Gongalsky is getting his second chance to play in the AHL.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I really like the way they coach here. I have to bear down and take advantage of every chance I get.”

During the 2008-09 season, without stepping foot in Texas, Gongalsky played six games for the San Antonio Rampage.

“I got called up when they were in Binghamton during their northern swing,” Gongalsky said. “They spent 26 days on the road. When they flew back to Texas, I flew back to Stockton, California.”

Tough, physical play has always been a part of Gongalsky’s game. One of his most memorable fights was against Dennis McCauley, one of his current Portland teammates, during the Phoenix Coyotes’ rookie camp in 2009.

In his first five games with the Pirates, Gongalsky has one assist and 11 penalty minutes.

During Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Worcester Sharks, he had a brief fight with left wing Brandon Mashinter.

THE PIRATES are expected to make some moves to bolster their lineup before this weekend.

With leading scorers Mark Mancari and Luke Adam playing in the National Hockey League with the parent Buffalo Sabres, and veteran Mark Parrish and second-year pro Travis Turnbull sidelined with injuries, the team’s corps of forwards has been depleted in recent weeks.

During Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Worcester Sharks, only 10 true forwards were available.

Their number was augmented by the presence of veteran defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani up front. But the Pirates still played one forward short, and Dineen had to mix and match his lines in search of the right combinations.

The Pirates, who have lost six of their last seven games to slide into third place in the AHL’s seven-team Atlantic Division, will play three games over the weekend, and Dineen indicated after Tuesday night’s loss a player or two may be added to the roster.

“I’ll evaluate our situation,” he said. “We won’t go this weekend without a full lineup.

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

[email protected]