WORCESTER, Mass. – The Portland Pirates and Worcester Sharks still do not like each other. They very much dislike each other. That much became evident early in Worcester’s 3-1 victory Friday night.
There were two official fights and another scrum after the whistle that earned offsetting minors, 12 penalties and 44 minutes of penalty minutes in the first period alone. The Pirates and Sharks combined for a total of 17 penalties and 54 minutes in the penalty box.
The unpleasant relations are nothing new. The teams had a benches-clearing brawl last April 7 after Portland won in a shootout. That fracas resulted in an eight-game suspension for Worcester’s Jimmy Bonneau, who recorded his 96th career AHL fight Friday night.
“I’m not going to get into it,” Portland Coach Ray Edwards said. “Obviously fans like the fights and the papers like to write about it, but all I’m interested in is winning hockey games, not all of that stuff.”
There was plenty of that stuff.
The first minutes of the first period featured three pugilistic events. Portland’s Joel Rechlicz had the most entertaining evening. He left the game because of a fight with Bonneau 5:22 into the period. On his way back to the bench after serving his time in the penalty box, Rechliz got into a verbal sparring match with Bonneau, then started talking to the official. That altercation earned Rechlicz a 10-minute misconduct penalty and a total of 15 minutes in the penalty box in the first period.
“He can talk,” teammate Andy Miele said. “When he’s on his game, he can run his mouth a bit because he can back it up.”
After the game, Rechlicz walked around the locker room with a large black eye from his part in the brawls. They lost the game, but Miele said his teammates won’t back down from a challenge.
“They’re a physical team and a lot of teams don’t like that kind of team,” Miele said. “They don’t play dirty or anything like that, but some teams are going to play like that and we’re going to let them know we don’t like it.”
At times a hockey game threatened to break out. Before any fisticuffs, Portland took a 1-0 lead on a Chris Brown goal, assisted by Miele, 1:02 into the game.
Despite allowing 33 shots on goal, the Pirates played well enough in front of their net that it seemed their narrow margin might hold up. Chad Johnson stopped 20 shots through two periods to keep Worcester off the scoreboard. But with two Pirates in the penalty box – not due to fights this time – Worcester’s Bracken Kearns scored 46 seconds into the third period. Then Freddie Hamilton scored with 11:24 remaining and Jon Matsumoto added an empty-netter with 38 seconds left to finish the scoring.
Chances are this was just the start of a season-long rivalry. The Pirates and Sharks play 10 more times this season, including Wednesday in Lewiston.