SACO – The Portland Pirates opened their exhibition season Wednesday afternoon at the MHG Ice Centre with a lineup filled with rookies and free agents trying to make a good impression.
The Pirates won 4-0 against the University of New Brunswick, Canada’s reigning college champion, and Coach Ray Edwards, who watched the game from an office above the ice, liked what he saw.
“I was impressed with some of the young guys who are fighting for a job,” he said. “Those kids are interesting. You can never have too much depth in your organization. It’s good for us to get a chance to see those guys.”
Portland’s lineup of 18 skaters and two goalies included six players who played regularly for the Pirates last season.
“So many things can happen, and you want to get a good look at them,” Edwards said. “In practice, you don’t get to see that. You’ve got to see them in a game environment.”
With 31 players in camp, and perhaps three or four more players expected to be assigned by the NHL parent Phoenix Coyotes during the next few days, Wednesday may be the only time a lot of the invitees to the training camp get a chance to play with the Pirates in the preseason.
“We’ve got only two exhibition games (left) so obviously we’ll start to piece our group together a little bit,” Edwards said. “We don’t play opening weekend, so it puts a lot of emphasis on those games just to get a sense who might be good to play with each other, some line combinations, see how our structure looks.”
The Pirates are scheduled to play two exhibition games against the Manchester Monarchs this weekend. They are scheduled to open the regular season Oct. 12 against the Providence Bruins at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
The thinning of the Portland roster could start Thursday.
“Just from the standpoint of being efficient, we need to get to one group,” Edwards said. “You can’t practice with 30 (players) in one group. We’ll have to make some decisions over the next day or two. We’ll probably be shrinking the group here in the morning.”
It was the second consecutive season the Pirates played UNB in a exhibition game.
“The great thing about UNB is they work really hard and they’re structured,” Edwards said. “It’s a good test because they’ve been playing and you have to be on your game, or you’ll get beat.”
The Varsity Reds, Canada’s national collegiate champion in four of the past seven seasons, began practices three weeks ago.
“It’s a terrific challenge for our team,” UNB Coach Gardiner MacDougall said.
“A lot of the players that we have have an opportunity on the pro level to be somewhere between the ECHL and the American Hockey League. This gives them a test of where they are at right now.”
Next week, the Reds, who swept a pair of exhibition games from the University of Windsor last weekend, will head west to play exhibitions against the University of Denver, Colorado College and the Air Force Academy.
In Wednesday’s game, Philippe Halley opened the scoring seven minutes into the second period. Kyle Hagel, Brenden Walker and Josh Currie scored third-period goals. None of those forwards played for the Pirates last season.
Goalie Louis Domingue, who did play two games for the Pirates last season, stopped 23 shots to post the shutout.
Freshman goalie Charles Lavigne made 27 saves for UNB.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: