PORTLAND — The new Portland Pirates eased into their first practice as part of the Phoenix Coyotes organization at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Monday, but the pace is expected to pick up today.
“We just tried to get the guys out on the ice and get them acclimated to their surroundings,” Portland Pirates Coach Ray Edwards said. “They’re getting used to new equipment, pads and sticks.”
The 33 players who suited up for the practice were divided into two groups, which skated through a series of passing and shooting drills during separate 45-minute sessions.
Edwards expects the tone of the training camp to intensify this morning with the first of a series of scrimmages between the groups.
“We’ll get into some scrimmages and get into more evaluating,” he said.
Center Ryan Hollweg, a veteran of four NHL seasons with the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, wasn’t surprised to see the relatively large number of players at the training camp. Sometimes in the past, when the AHL team was affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks or the Buffalo Sabres, only a dozen or so players were available for the opening day of practice.
“It’s normal for this organization,” said Hollweg, who spent the past two seasons playing with the San Antonio Rampage, Phoenix’ old AHL affiliate.
“(The Coyotes) like the competitive nature of the camp. There are a few jobs available and everybody has to pick up the intensity. Most of the guys have been together for two, three weeks and they’re coming in in in pretty good shape. It’s going to force the guys who are coming in now to work that much harder.”
Igor Gongalsky, a native of Kiev, Ukraine, is the only player in camp who played for the Pirates last season when the club was affiliated with the Sabres. Buffalo moved its top minor-league team back to Rochester, N.Y., after spending three seasons in Maine.
Unlike most of players at Monday’s practices, Gongalsky, 24, didn’t spend any time at the Coyotes’ camp in Glendale, Ariz.
“It makes me want to be more competitive,” said the 6-foot, 225-pound left wing. “I have to show the other players I can play and that they can trust me to be a good teammate.”
To prepare for his tryout with the Pirates, Gongalsky stuck to a 14-week routine of workouts.
“I still got a lot of rest and tried to be as strong as I could be because a big part of my game is my strength,” he said.
NOTES: Right wing Ashton Rome, a veteran of five AHL seasons, is among the 13 players invited to try out for the Pirates. He is the younger brother of Vancouver Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome, who played three seasons in Portland when the Pirates were affiliated with the Ducks. …
John Wroblewski, new head coach of the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators, was on the ice during both practice sessions. This summer, the Georgia-based team also became an affiliate of the Coyotes and some of the players at the Pirates’ camp are expected to be assigned to the Gladiators … Former Pirates forward Jimmy Bonneau was a no-show. Over the weekend, he signed with the AHL’s Worcester Sharks. … An injury prevented right wing Jordan Szwarz, who is trying to make the jump into the AHL from junior, from participating in Monday’s practice. … For the next three days, the Pirates are scheduled to practice from 9 a.m. until noon.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: email@example.com