Ryan Duncan is the smallest player in the Portland Pirates’ lineup, but he intends to prove he doesn’t play like he is.

“I think there’s strength and weaknesses for everybody,” said Duncan, a 5-foot-6, 170-pound left wing. “Whether you’re a big guy or a small guy, you’ve got to be quick. I’ve got to use my brains. I’ve got to use my teammates.”

Last Saturday night in the Pirates’ 4-2 win against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the season opener, Duncan helped set up a goal by rookie Brett Hextall three minutes into the game.

“I try to go out there and play to my strengths,” Duncan said. “Obviously, I’m not going to outmuscle a lot of guys out there. I’ve got to do other things to help me win the battles.”

Duncan, who won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player in 2009 following his fourth season at the University of North Dakota, made his AHL debut when he played two games for the Sound Tigers following his senior year. He ended up playing his first two full pro seasons in the Austrian Elite League.

“Things didn’t work out (in Bridgeport) and options came up quickly in Europe,” Duncan said. “Playing in Austria was one of them and I decided to take that opportunity, and it was a great two years there.”
Duncan, 26, said his time in Europe prepared him for the rigors of the AHL.

“I was very surprised with the Austrian league,” he said. “There is a lot of talent in that league, a lot of good players, so it was definitely a challenge for me.

“It was a new experience, and I think I definitely gained from spending my two years there.”
Duncan said his team didn’t just play against other Austrian teams.

“The team I played for is sponsored by Red Bull and they’re trying to expand,” he said. “We played in some big tournaments against some of the best teams in Europe, so I got some good exposure there.”

THE PIRATES WILL see a lot of the Manchester Monarchs during the first month of the season.

They play 12 games against each other this season, and five of them are scheduled for the next three weeks.

“We’re going to get to know each other pretty quickly,” Pirates Coach Ray Edwards said. “They’re well coached and they’ve got a good group.

“It should be a good test for us.”

After Saturday night’s home opener against Manchester at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the Pirates are scheduled to play the Monarchs again Wednesday and Oct. 28 at the Civic Center and on Nov. 6 and Nov. 9 at the Verizon Center in Manchester, N.H.

Some of Portland’s players already seen quite a bit of the Monarchs, the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. A team of prospects played L.A. twice last month during Phoenix Coyotes’ rookie camp.

The Coyotes also played a preseason, split-squad exhibition against the Kings.

On Oct. 2, the Pirates beat the Monarchs 2-0 in an exhibition game at the Civic Center.

“We’ve never seen the whole group,” Edwards said. “Exhibitions are so different. You’re playing different guys to see them play.”

PORTLAND WILL BE short one defensemen when they take the ice against the Monarchs.

Chris Sommers, the Coyotes’ first-round pick in the 2006 entry draft, was called up by the parent club Monday night after defenseman Michal Rozsival was placed on the injured-reserve list.

“They felt (Sommers) was the best guy to go up in this situation,” Edwards said. “He’s a good defending guy and that’s what he needs to do up there.”

Rozsival, an 11-year NHL veteran, was hit in the face by a puck Monday night during a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars and will be out at least one week.

“We feel we’re pretty deep on the back end, so when a guy is out someone else jumps in,” Edwards said.

Last Saturday night, seven defensemen dressed for the Pirates during their 4-2 win against Bridgeport at Webster Bank Arena.

The Pirates started the season with nine defensemen on the roster.

“Nine isn’t the ideal number, but having depth in that position is ideal,” Edwards said. “The reality is you’re going to lose guys. It’s a tough position to play, but we’ve got eight or nine guys we feel can play in this league.”

THE PIRATES will host their fourth annual Breast Cancer Awareness Night, presented by Maine Medical Center, on Saturday, Oct. 22, when they take on the Providence Bruins.

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

pbetit@pressherald.com

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH