PORTLAND — For Portland Pirates rookie Ethan Werek, the moment of truth came with about two minutes left in an intrasquad scrimmage Wednesday.
Ryan Hollweg, a 10-year veteran with exactly 100 fights under his belt, had dropped his gloves and challenged Werek after the 20-year-old center battled him for the puck along the side boards.
The teammates went at it for a few moments before Werek tumbled to the Cumberland County Civic Center ice, still in Hollweg’s grasp.
When he played junior hockey for the Kingston Frontenacs in the Ontario Hockey League, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Werek was a scorer, not a fighter. But he knew he couldn’t back down from Hollweg, who spent two full seasons in the NHL as the tough guy for the New York Rangers.
“When he dropped his gloves, I knew I had to stand up for myself,” said Werek, who averaged more than a point per game last season with Kingston. “I didn’t want to look like a coward. We had a good fight and we talked after. I have some learning to do but it was good.”
It was a rite of passage and the rookie passed the test.
“It shows a lot for a young guy like that,” Hollweg said. “Obviously I’m a veteran guy. It’s part of my job to test these young guys. They’ve got to learn this league is different than college, it’s different than junior (hockey), and you’ve got to be ready to protect yourself if you’re going to play.”
The fight capped an intense one-hour scrimmage during the second day of the Pirates’ training camp.
“The intensity level was good,” Coach Ray Edwards said. “There was a lot of physical play. I’m not just talking about that scrap but there were some bodies flying around, which was good. Usually that first day of scrimmage is a little like pond hockey, but I thought some of that structure we’ve been talking about was there.”
“The guys are competing hard,” said Marc Cheverie, a 24-year-old goalie who came to the Phoenix organization via a trade with the Florida Panthers earlier this month. “It’s a high level of hockey and you definitely have to be on your toes at all times.”
“It was really intense out there,” said center Colin Long, a third-year pro who scored two of the three goals in the scrimmage.
“It was good to see guys competing for jobs, and I’m just trying to earn a spot here and prove I can be here.”
The Pirates, in their first season as the AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes, will hold scrimmages today and Thursday before traveling to West Springfield, Mass., for an exhibition Friday against the Albany Devils.
The Pirates, who open the regular season Oct. 8 at the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, will play an exhibition against the Manchester Monarchs at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Civic Center.
NOTES: Forwards Chris Clackson, Joey Haddad and Tyler Murovich from the Gwinnett Gladiators are in camp. … Cheverie, who played three seasons at the University of Denver before turning pro, grew up with Sidney Crosby in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. … Center David Rutherford, who spent last season with the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs in the Central Hockey League, scored the other goal in the scrimmage. … Left wing Kevin Henderson, who spent last season in the AHL with the Worcester Sharks, left the scrimmage with an injured right shoulder.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: [email protected]