PORTLAND – Since he was 18, Joel Rechlicz, nicknamed “Wrecker,” has known his hockey role.

For the past seven seasons, he has provided a physical presence on the ice to give his more talented teammates freedom.

“What a guy like Joel brings, I think, is a sense of security,” Portland Pirates Coach Ray Edwards said. “We have a group that is younger and some of them are playing pro for the first time, and we just want to make sure they’re feeling comfortable and safe. Joel is a top guy in that category in this league.”

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Rechlicz, a right wing, is an imposing figure, but he aims to provide more than just a security blanket for the Pirates.

“There are nights and there are games when you can sense your team is flat, and he can be a vocal leader,” Edwards said. “He can go out and get a big hit. He can get in on the forecheck and create loose pucks. It’s not just one-dimensional for him.”

Rechlicz, who participated in an informal team skate with about 20 players at the Portland Ice Arena on Friday morning, agreed he has to do more than just fight.

“The game is different now,” he said. “We all know it’s different. Whether you play in this league or the NHL, you have to do more than that. I understand that.”

Rechlicz, who has played in a total of 26 NHL games with the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, said his positive personality and solid work ethic also will help the Pirates.

“I’m going to be the high-energy guy, either on the bench with a positive presence or I’ll get my hits in,” said Rechlicz, who was signed by the Phoenix Coyotes as a free agent in July. “That’s another thing I love doing is making big hits. I’ll be a physical presence out there. If somebody goes after one of our guys, I’ll take care of it.”

According to hockeyfights.com, Rechlicz had 17 fights in 44 games for Hershey last season. Ryan Hollweg led the Pirates with nine fights in 49 games.

Richard Clune and Justin Johnson, who both played for the Atlantic Division champion Manchester Monarchs, led the AHL with 23 fights each last season.

“When we looked at bringing him in, we did our homework,” Edwards said. “He was very well-liked by his teammates. He’s a great team person. His coaches liked him a lot, and we needed to have that element here this year.”

The Pirates’ training camp continues Saturday with fitness testing and medical exams. Sunday morning, the AHL team will hold its first on-ice practice sessions at PIA.

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

pbetit@pressherald.com

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH