Come October, the Portland Pirates’ lineup could include a Hobey Baker winner, the son of a former NHL all-star goalie, and as many as a dozen players who spent the past AHL season deep in the heart of Texas.
Brian Petrovek, the CEO and managing owner of the Pirates, will make it official at a 1 p.m. news conference Monday at the Cumberland County Civic Center, but informed sources confirmed the Phoenix Coyotes will become the new NHL parent of the Pirates.
The Pirates’ three-year affiliation with the Buffalo Sabres ended Friday when the AHL board of governors approved Buffalo’s purchase of the Rochester Americans. Players with the Pirates last season and still under contract with Buffalo will be moving to upstate New York.
The Coyotes, who have been affiliated with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage since 2005, are expected to assign their top prospects to the Pirates. They include Andy Miele, a Miami of Ohio standout signed as a free agent after winning the Hobey Baker last winter. Miele, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound forward, led NCAA Division I in scoring with 24 goals and 47 assists.
Portland’s lineup also could include Brett Hextall, who signed an entry-level contract with the Coyotes last spring after completing his third season as a forward with the University of North Dakota. He is the son of former goalie Ron Hextall, who played 13 seasons in the NHL.
Ray Edwards, 41, is entering his second full season as coach of Phoenix’s AHL team. In 2009-10, the Rampage went 36-32-5-7 after Edwards, who has been coaching professional teams since 1995, took over for Greg Ireland six weeks into the season.
San Antonio went 40-33-4-3 last season and remained in the race for a Western Conference playoff berth until the last week of the season.
The change in affiliation will result in Phoenix’s return to the AHL’s Eastern Conference. Before becoming affiliated with a Western Conference team in Texas, the Coyotes, who moved to Arizona from Winnipeg in 1996, were affiliated with the Springfield Falcons.
Nolan Yonkman, a defenseman who spent four seasons in Portland when the Pirates were affiliated with the Washington Capitals, understands why the Coyotes would want to move their minor league team back East.
“As far as a coach is concerned, I can see where the Eastern Conference might be better for developing players,” he said. “There’s something to be said for being able to sleep in your own bed most nights after a game.”
Yonkman, who is now a free agent, spent last season with the Rampage after playing three seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals, another Western Conference team.
“Playing in the Western (Conference) is more like playing in the NHL,” he said. “You fly in the night before a game, you play and you fly out.
“I played in Portland for four years and it was my home. I loved it there, but San Antonio was a great place to play, too.
“It doesn’t matter. If you’re an older player or a younger player, you’ve got to find the best in the city you’re in.”
The Coyotes were one of three NHL teams that expressed interest in becoming the Pirates’ new parent.
The Vancouver Canucks, who were affiliated with the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg, and the Florida Panthers, who ended their affiliation agreement with Rochester, also were looking for a new AHL affiliate.
Kevin Dineen, coach of the Pirates for the past six seasons, said he would like the Pirates to become Florida’s next top affiliate earlier this month after he was named new coach of the Panthers.
“I’ve worked in Portland,” he said. “I know the quality of life there for the players is great for them to develop as players.”
But the Panthers, who ended their affiliation with Rochester this spring, are expected to become the new NHL parent of the Rampage in San Antonio.
Vancouver, whose AHL team was displaced when the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased by a Canadian group and moved to Winnipeg, are expected to be the parent of the Chicago Wolves, Atlanta’s former AHL affiliate. Atlanta will be affiliated with a new team in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: