PORTLAND – For five weeks, the Portland Pirates were one of the hottest teams in the American Hockey League.
It came to an end last week when they dropped three of their four games over a six-day span.
The Pirates intend to get back on the winning track this weekend before taking a four-day break because of the AHL All-Star Classic, scheduled for Sunday and Monday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.
Last week was especially hectic for a lot of the Pirates.
At one point, about half of the players who started the season with them were in Arizona, participating in a scrimmage at the parent Phoenix Coyotes’ training camp following the end of the 119-day NHL player lockout.
“You never want to use it as a prime excuse, but when you’re traveling across the country it’s a long flight, there and back,” said right wing Jordan Szwarz, one of the six players who made the round trip to Phoenix in less than 36 hours. “It ended up being seven games in nine nights for us. The fatigue kind of set in on the weekend, and it was really evident in our play.”
From Dec. 8 through Jan. 13, the Pirates won 13 of 15 games to climb into first place in the Atlantic Division. Going into this weekend, they still hold a six-point lead over the second-place Manchester Monarchs.
“It’s a bit of a cliche, but we’ve got to get back to the way we were playing,” said left wing Rob Klinkhammer. “We’ve got to get back to the simple things. We’re doing our best when we’re chipping and chasing and grinding it out in the offensive zone, and all over the ice with our (defensemen) swarming their guys. That’s the way we’ve got to get back to.”
During the first half of the season, before the NHL owners and players agreed to a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, none of the Pirates could think about being called by the Coyotes. Now that play has started in the NHL, an emergency call-up can occur at any time.
“I don’t think it’s going to change the mind-set of too many guys,” said defenseman Chris Summers, who played 21 games with the Coyotes during call-ups. “There’s just a different element to work for, but I think guys are still going to show up and make sure they put their best foot forward.”
Since the start of the season, Portland’s players have demonstrated they can set their ambitions aside for the good of the team.
“We are an unselfish group of players here,” said center Andy Miele. “We’re all going to work hard because everyone wants to be in the NHL, but we’re also going to work hard for the team down here because everyone wants to succeed down here. If you don’t have success down here, you’re not going to get the opportunity up there.”
NOTES: Defenseman Boris Valabek, who was signed to an AHL contract earlier this month, participated in his first full practice Wednesday since his arrival last weekend from his native Slovakia. Following Thursday morning’s practice, the Pirates will travel to Rhode Island to prepare for Friday night’s game with the Providence Bruins.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: