Portland Pirates Coach Kevin Dineen got more than he bargained for when he signed Dennis McCauley to a contract last summer.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound McCauley is a big guy who can not only fight but can also score goals and make plays.

With 28 games left on the schedule, McCauley, in his second AHL season, already has exceeded his point total from a year ago when he played for the Worcester Sharks.

“He fought against us last season and he played some real solid hockey,” Dineen said. “When I saw he was available (last) summer, I thought he would be a good depth guy for us and he’s certainly exceeded expectations.

In 51 games with the Pirates, McCauley has nine goals and 15 assists. In 53 games with the Sharks during the regular season and playoffs, he had 12 goals and six assists.

“He has moved into a role where we’re comfortable with him on the power play and he can play throughout my lineup,” Dineen said.

“He has the ability to make plays and score goals, and obviously he can fight, too,” Portland forward Derek Whitmore said. “He’s got almost 30 points right now, which is almost unheard of for so-called tough guys in hockey.”

Then there are the intangibles.

“He brings good attitude, energy and enthusiasm to the locker room every day,” Whitmore said. “He’s a bit of a character but he’s definitely one of those guys you love to have on your team.”

So far, McCauley has been in 14 fights to share the team lead with defenseman Tim Conboy.

But McCauley’s game is about much more than fighting.

“The only way to make it to the next level is you’ve got to play and you’ve got to bring more things to the table than just one thing,” he said. “What I’ve been trying to do my whole career is to be the kind of guy who can score a goal and be a physical presence.”

That’s the main reason McCauley spent four years at Northeastern University after playing two seasons of junior hockey for the Sioux City Musketeers.

“There is no fighting in college,” McCauley said. “If you want to play, you’ve got to bring skills.”

McCauley had a chance to follow a different route to professional hockey.

“When I was out in Sioux City, I had an opportunity to leave and go play in the (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), for Lewiston, actually,” he said.

“It was one of those things where my father said if you go to school, you can develop your skills and you can get a degree out of it.

“He said the only way you’re going to be able to play at the professional level is if you can do more than just fight.”

McCauley followed the advice.

In addition to playing hockey at Northeastern, he also earned degrees in marketing and management.

 

GOALIE JHONAS ENROTH started for the Buffalo Sabres against the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night following his recall from the Pirates.

It is the third recall of the season for Enroth, who has an 18-14-1 record with Portland while posting a 2.83 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.

In five games with the Sabres this season, Enroth is 2-2-1 with a 2.90 GAA and .897 save percentage.

At practice Tuesday morning, Mark Gosselin, former director of game operations for the Pirates, served as goaltender for the team.

David Leggio, who normally serves as Enroth’s backup, has compiled a 1.80 GAA while winning his last five starts.

 

GOALIE BRAD THIESSEN was named the AHL player of the week for the period ending Sunday after compiling a .971 save percentage while winning four of his five starts for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Portland defenseman T.J. Brennan, who had two goals and three assists in wins against Manchester and Bridgeport, also was nominated for the weekly award.

 

SNOOPY WILL make an appearance at tonight’s game against the Providence Bruins at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Kids can meet and have their pictures taken with the famous Peanuts beagle.

On Presidents Day next Monday, fans can skate with the Pirates following a 1 p.m. game against the Connecticut Whale at the Civic Center.

 

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: [email protected]