LEWISTON — On a night when the visiting coach – a former Maine Mariner – made history, the Portland Pirates continued their futility inside the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
The Pirates fell into an early hole and couldn’t climb out, losing 5-3 to the Worcester Sharks, whose coach, Roy Sommer, set an American Hockey League longevity record with 1,275 games behind the bench.
“It’s always good to get a win,” said Sommer, who won a Calder Cup in 1984 as a winger with the Mariners, “but I guess on a night like (Wednesday) makes it even more special.”
The Sharks jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first period and withstood a pair of comebacks by the Pirates, who closed the gap to 3-2 and 4-3 before an empty-net goal in the final minute sealed the victory for Worcester, currently in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
Eight teams qualify for the playoffs. The Pirates, in 14th, have a dozen games remaining and could face mathematical elimination from the race as early as Friday, when they host Providence.
Lucas Lessio and Andy Miele scored within two minutes of each other late in the second period to pull the Pirates within one at 3-2.
A breakaway goal by Worcester’s Eriah Hayes returned the cushion to 4-2 heading into the third period.
Midway through the third, hooking and high-sticking penalties on Worcester gave the Pirates nearly a minute and a half of a five-on-three power play. Troy Grosenick, who finished with 27 saves for Worcester, denied them the tying goal.
“We missed, I think, three point-blank chances,” said Pirates Coach Ray Edwards. “The execution to get the chances was good. We just didn’t put the puck in the net.”
With a little more than a minute remaining and goalie Chris Rawlings on the bench for an extra attacker, the Pirates made it 4-3 on a goal from James Melindy. Twenty-four seconds later, Worcester’s Bracken Kearns scored the empty-netter.
A crowd announced as 1,667 saw the Pirates fall to 9-23 at the Colisee. The Pirates had been away from home – not that the Colisee has provided the sort of comfort or advantage one normally associates with a team’s domicile – for 16 days. They went to Newfoundland for three games against St. John and then took last week off as the Colisee hosted the NCAA Division III national men’s hockey tournament.
The team that returned had plenty of roster changes. Goaltender Mark Visentin is up with Phoenix of the NHL, likely for the rest of the season, because of an injury to Mike Smith. Rawlings, formerly of Northeastern, is up from Arizona of the Central Hockey League.
Although the playoffs are improbable, Edwards said the remaining 12 games are important.
“There’s jobs on the line, there’s an opportunity to go up to Phoenix,” he said. “There’s a lot to play for and this group knows it.”
NOTES: The previous AHL coaching mark was held by Frank Mathers, who coached for 18 seasons between 1956 and 1985. Sommer is in his 16th season as coach of San Jose’s top minor-league affiliate.
As a player, Sommer appeared in three NHL games, with the 1980-81 Edmonton Oilers of Wayne Gretzky, and scored a goal in his debut.
“It was the decisive seventh goal of an 8-1 blowout against Montreal,” Sommer said with a laugh. “Gretzky had five points that game.”
The Pirates will wear purple jerseys Friday night in Lewiston against Providence to promote cancer awareness and raise money for the Central Maine Comprehensive Cancer Center. Each jersey will be signed and auctioned off on eBay, and the Pirates will also donate all proceeds from their 50/50 raffle that night. Also, a practice jersey signed by actor Patrick Dempsey will be raffled off, with the money going to his namesake Center of Cancer Hope & Healing’s Maine Fund for Cancer Patients.
Since last they played in Maine, the Pirates signed defenseman Joel Hanley (whose career at UMass recently ended) to a tryout contract. Another defender, Cade Fairchild, arrived by trade from St. Louis. Forward Sebastian Stalberg, who played at Vermont, is on loan from San Jose. He had played for Worcester earlier this season.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: