Losing the first three games in a best-of-five playoff series may not look like the culmination to a successful season, but the Portland Pirates may have exceeded expectations by even making their brief postseason appearance.
“Overall, I think it was a good year,” said forward Chris Brown, one of 13 rookies who suited up for the AHL team during the course of the season. “I think the odds were against us from the get-go because we were such a young team. I think we met expectations, and we even exceeded them by getting to the playoffs.”
The season came to a screeching halt when Orenj Palat scored his second goal of the game with 17 seconds left in overtime as the Syracuse Crunch completed a sweep of the first-round Calder Cup series with a 4-3 win against the Pirates last Thursday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
“At the beginning of the year a majority of people were counting us out of it merely because we had such a young team, an inexperienced team,” said Brown, who scored a team-high 29 goals. “To have the success that we did, to have guys step up from throughout the organization, was huge.”
In total, 20 first- or second-year players played for the Pirates this season, and the experience they gained from helping the team complete its successful drive to the playoffs and their brief taste of postseason play could prove invaluable in the long run.
“As a group, we accomplished a lot this year, especially with our younger players,” Coach Ray Edwards said. “I know it’s not easy for fans, but it’s important for an organization to grow its young players. I think we really did that this year.”
It was the first time the AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes appeared in the Calder Cup playoffs since the San Antonio Rampage lost a seven-game, first-round series to the Toronto Marlies in 2008.
“Just getting to the postseason and playing some big games down the stretch you definitely learn a lot playing under pressure, playing those big games,” said forward Ethan Werek, a second-year pro from Toronto.
Andy Miele, the 2011 Hoby Baker Award winner as NCAA Division I’s top player, said he learned the importance of having good team chemistry during his second full AHL season.
“As a group, obviously, we didn’t have as much skill and experience as some of the other teams,” he said. “It was our closeness as a team that carried us through a lot of games. Every time you hear about a championship team, they say ‘it couldn’t have happened to a better group of guys.’ It’s always the closest teams that go the furthest.”
The entire season was a learning experience for Phil Lane, a rookie forward from Rochester, N.Y., who came on late to score 14 goals and have eight assists while playing 70 games.
“It takes you a little bit to adapt to it, the lifestyle and the change,” he said. “It’s your job now to come here every day, and I think it’s just something you’ve got to wrap your head around. I don’t think it took me too long, but it took me a little bit.”
Lane said he learned a lot from the older Pirates.
“In juniors, you can screw around a bit, but when you come into the AHL, it’s all business,” he said. “You’ve got to come to the rink every day and you’ve got to come ready to work. When you come to the game, you’ve got to be focused. You got to bring that every day.”
The younger players on the Portland roster also learned their work doesn’t stop just because the playing season ended.
“I’m going to watch a lot of video this summer, the plays on the wall especially, and try to learn from my mistakes,” said Brown, who lives in Flower Mound, Texas. “I made mistakes every shift, and I know that is going to happen. Just to learn from those little things is a drastic thing, so I need to learn how to do those little things a little better.”
Before they left town, each of the Pirates received an offseason training regimen from the team trainer.
“I’ve got to talk with the trainers here, and we will come up with a plan,” said rookie defenseman Brandon Gormley before he headed back home to Prince Edward Island. “I know how hard it is to play in this league and have success, and that is good motivation.”
Werek intends to take it easy for a little while.
“I’m going to take some rest, right now, but after a couple of days you kind of get the itch to get back into it,” he said. “I want to continue to get stronger and keep on building.”
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: