PORTLAND – The fans of the Portland Pirates call Ryan Hollweg “The Stache.”

More than likely, opponents call him things much worse.

But his teammates? They call Hollweg invaluable.

“He’s one of those guys you need on your team,” said right wing Brett MacLean, in his third season as a Hollweg teammate. “You can’t replace him. He does everything for you.”

And just what does Hollweg bring to the table?

“He’s the guy who will fight anybody,” MacLean said. “If someone gets a run, he’ll go fight the guy who did it. It doesn’t make any difference how big the guy is. It doesn’t matter. He’s probably one of the toughest guys, pound for pound, in the league, and he’ll do anything to help his team. He’s just the kind of guy you need if you want to be a championship team.”

And just how tough is Hollweg?

“The first year I played with him, he stopped a shot with his face and broke his jaw, and you wouldn’t even have known it.” MacLean said. “He just toughed it out.”

Hollweg is much more than a tough guy.

“He’s invaluable to our group because of his work ethic and his leadership, his toughness, his experience and just the type of person he is,” Coach Ray Edwards said. “He keeps things light when it needs to be light and he keeps it serious when it needs to be serious. He knows what we’re expecting from the team and the group, and he helps us send that message.”

The younger Pirates have a lot of respect for Hollweg, who has totaled 228 games with the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Phoenix Coyotes.

“He’s got an unbelievable work ethic, and he just goes out there every night and works hard,” said Evan Bloodoff, a rookie left wing who often skates on Hollweg’s line. “I just feed off him a lot in the games. He’s such an energy guy, everybody takes energy from him.”

The skilled players who score most of the Pirates’ goals also appreciate Hollweg.

“When he’s out there sticking up for the guys, it’s nice to know he’s got your back,” center Brock Trotter said. “It makes it easier for the other guys to play with confidence.”

Trotter, who came from the Hamilton Bulldogs in an Oct. 24 trade, played against Hollweg a few times in the past.

“He’s one of those guys who you’ve got to be aware of when he’s out on the ice,” Trotter said. “He brings that physical side. He always finishes his checks. He gets under your skin and he’s a tough guy to play against.”

In 31 games with the Pirates, Hollweg has just two assists. But his teammates say what he does can’t be measured statistically.

“When we’re down or we don’t have momentum, he’s going to go get it for us,” MacLean said. “He’s going to run someone through the boards or make a big block or go fight somebody. He’s just the kind of guy who’s going to turn the tide for you.”

It’s a role Hollweg has embraced.

“Once upon the time I was considered to be a scorer,” he said. “But my number one focus (now) is to be a solid defensive guy and to be strong on the (penalty kill), and just lead by example.”

A native of Downey, Calif., Hollweg, 28, began playing hockey when he was 4 years old at a small rink in Norwalk, another Los Angeles suburb.

“The rink I grew up playing in was just a little meat locker,” he said. “It had a chain-link fence instead of glass.”

When he was 13, Hollweg played for a team of elite players based in Redwood City in northern California.

“There were 13 Russians on the team and some Canadians,” he said. “We must have played more than 100 games that season. We played in tournaments all over North America.”

While attending Delphi Academy in Langley, British Columbia, Hollweg played two full seasons for the Langley Hornets in the British Columbia Hockey League.

“I left home early and I grew up pretty quick,” he said. “Being away from your family at a young age was tough but I got to do something I really love. Being from California, playing hockey every day as a kid wasn’t even an option. It was a dream come true to be able to do that.”

In 1999, when he was 16, the Medicine Hat Tigers made Hollweg the first pick in the Western Hockey League draft.

After playing junior hockey, the Rangers selected Hollweg in the eighth round of the 2001 NHL draft.

Hollweg began to grow the handlebar moustache that’s become his trademark during one of his three seasons with the Rangers.

“In New York, it kind of started out as a joke,” he said. “Once you have it, a lot of people expect it and you can’t take it off. It’s a part of you. It’s like I’d let so many people down if I got rid of it. That’s just who I am.”

In recent weeks, Hollweg, 28, has added a full beard.

“The guys kind of like the beard right now, so I’m going to let them decide,” he said.

Sometimes, Hollweg’s extremely physical approach has gotten him into trouble.

Already, the AHL has suspended him twice for actions in games.

“Obviously I play on the edge and there’s going to be times where I might go over it a little bit, especially the way the game is being called nowadays,” he said. “I’ve got to be smart and I’ve got to be sure I’m playing within the rules.”

But Hollweg doesn’t intend to change his approach.

“I’m been fortunate enough in every hit I’ve had nobody’s gotten hurt,” he said, “but I’m going to go hard every day because that’s the way I play.”

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

pbetit@pressherald.com

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH