WORCESTER, Mass. – Brett Hextall wore a green Army helmet in the Portland Pirates locker room Sunday afternoon. It was an appropriate symbol after the Pirates plowed past the Worcester Sharks for a 3-1 win despite having nine scratches due to NHL training camps starting Sunday.
The faces have changed, but the Pirates’ traditions and winning ways go on.
Hextall wore the hard hat because it is the players’ award, symbolizing blue-collar play. The helmet came from the previous game’s helmet winner, and Hextall will choose the next recipient.
Portland (23-12-1-1) lost four of its top five scorers to the Phoenix Coyotes, who opened training camp Sunday, but it didn’t matter.
“It gives other guys the opportunity to step up,” Hextall said. “The nice thing is we played a really good team game. We lost a lot of guys but that just means others get a chance to show their leadership.”
Hextall gave Portland a first-period lead. A pass from Russ Sinkewich caromed off a Worcester skate, leaving Hextall an open lane to fire a slap shot past Sharks goaltender Harri Sateri with 2:36 left in the period.
It was the fourth-straight victory for Portland, which leads Worcester by seven points in the AHL’s Atlantic Division and trails Syracuse by five points in the Eastern Conference race.
Pirates Coach Ray Edwards acknowledged that all the lineup changes had an effect on the offense for both teams.
“That game was a scrambling game,” Edwards said. “When you lose that many players, you’re not in sync yet and there were some mistakes. It makes it harder.”
In lieu of a fine-tuned offense, Portland relied on a high volume of shots. The Pirates pelted Sateri with 41 shots, while Worcester managed just 11 shots through two periods and 27 for the game.
Still, Portland needed a goal from Chris Conner with 4:41 remaining in the second period to go ahead 2-1. Worcester had a number of opportunities to tie the game it in the third period before Jordan Schwarz dumped in an empty-netter with 29 seconds remaining.
Both teams racked up penalties in a choppy second period, eventually leading to three-on-three skating as Worcester had four players in the penalty box while Portland had three.
Joel Rechlicz, who now has 109 penalty minutes in 22 games, was given a five-minute major for fighting. He spent his time in the box yelling at Jimmy Bonneau, his opponent in the fight, then got a 10-minute misconduct for continuing to talk when he returned to the Portland bench.
Portland goalie Chad Johnson said it was tough to remain focused through the penalties and lack of shots he faced in the first two periods. But he fought through it, which is simply what the Pirates do with adversity.
“With us, the way we play, it doesn’t really matter how talented you are,” Johnson said. “It takes a lot of hard work. Obviously, there are some skill guys who can make things happen out there. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter how good you are. You have to have effort.”