Sunday, December 8, 2013
Special to the Telegram
NORFOLK, Va. — Kyle Rank served notice early Saturday night that these weren't the Portland Pirates who have already endured six evenings of road futility in this young hockey season.
Then he punctuated his message with a third-period goal that broke a 4-4 tie and sent the Pirates to a 6-5 win over the Norfolk Admirals, their first away from the Cumberland County Civic Center this season.
The winning goal came just over two minutes later, on a shot by Tyler Ennis. It was his second goal in as many nights and fifth in his last four games.
The Pirates are 1-6 on the road.
''When you're going through a thing like this, you can tend to take it personally,'' said Pirates Coach Kevin Dineen. ''It's a reflection on all of us.''
Rank took it upon himself to make sure everybody -- and especially his teammates -- knew this wasn't the same club that stumbled through a 4-2 loss a night earlier.
Lined up for a faceoff only 52 seconds into the game, he began a push-and-shove with Norfolk's Radek Smolenak that quickly escalated into a fight. It ended just as quickly when Rank's left hook connected with Smolenak's jaw for a one-punch knockout.
Smolenak, who plays on Norfolk's top offensive line, was out for the rest of the game, forcing Coach Darren Rumble to shuffle lines all night.
''We hadn't been playing too well on the road, and I was trying to give the team a spark right off the bat,'' Rank said. ''It's unfortunate what happened to (Smolenak). He's a great player.''
Dineen agreed, and said the punch and its aftereffects cast a pall over both teams in the early going.
The Pirates fell behind 3-1 in the first period before beginning a comeback.
''It's huge,'' Rank said of ending the losing streak on the road. ''We were on the bus 14 hours Thursday, and we weren't happy with our effort (Friday).
''We didn't get off to the start that we really wanted to (Saturday), but we never quit.''
The Pirates held Norfolk without a shot for the first 11:18 of the second period.
Goals by Mike Kostka, Jeff Cowan and Mark Mancari gave the Pirates a 4-3 lead going into the third and took some of the onus off goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, who got a piece of all three Admirals goals in the first period without stopping them.
''The goals are what makes the difference, and you have to have them,'' Dineen said. ''But we just seemed to solidify back there (on defense). There was no panic.
''Our game plan was to push back. Obviously we weren't happy with those first three goals. I thought they were all stoppable goals.''
Justin Keller's second goal of the night for Norfolk tied the game in the third period and set up the heroics by Rank and Ennis.
''That showed some character, coming back like that,'' Dineen said.