March 10, 2010

Pirates seeking big-hit season


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John Ewing/Staff Photographer: Tuesday, June 10, 2008... Buffalo Sabres Managing Partner Larry Quinn (left) and General Manager Darcy Regier field questions from attendees at a press conference at the Cumberland County Civic Center announcing their team's new AHL player development affiliation with the Portland Pirates.

Staff Writer

With the start of training camp less than two weeks away, the Portland Pirates and their parent club, the Buffalo Sabres, are taking a hypothetical approach to the season. That's because nothing is certain in regards to personnel.

But with the regular season set to begin Oct. 3 for the Pirates, Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier and Pirates Coach Kevin Dineen believe they've plugged some holes that plagued Portland last year.

''With the numbers we have, we're in a better place (with the Pirates),'' Regier said. ''We're in a stronger position than we were a year ago.''

The Pirates finished 39-31-3-7 and lost their first-round playoff series in five games to the Providence Bruins.

The Sabres' offseason free-agent signings include several players who could be in Portland -- left wing Jeff Cowan, goalie J.P. Lamoureux, forward Kyle Rank, center Cody McCormick and defenseman Joe DiPenta, who spent last season playing in Sweden and who has split his nine-year career between the NHL and AHL. Cowan, Lamoureux, McCormick and DiPenta signed two-way contracts. Rank signed an AHL contract.

''They all have opportunities to play (in Buffalo),'' Regier said. ''But they'll be in a great situation if they play in Portland.''

Added Dineen, ''Organizationally, they're good signings. Not only do they bring what we need, and that's strong character, they bring size and a will to win.''

They will join the Sabres' training camp next month. Non-NHL players and those who appeared in fewer than 50 NHL games last season will report to Buffalo on Sept. 8 for training camp. The rest of the Sabres' roster will report Sept. 12.

Size, Regier said, will be key for the development of the Sabres' signings in Portland. Cowan, McCormick, Rank and DiPenta average 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, and Cowan also brings some much-needed grit. Last season, Cowan had 94 penalty minutes in 71 games, and in eight NHL seasons has 695 penalty minutes.

Last season the Pirates had 1,211 minutes in penalties, but only one player with more than 100 -- Jimmy Bonneau, with 122 penalty minutes in 46 games.

''One of the things we have addressed and increased is surrounding some of the smaller, skilled players with grittier, tougher players,'' Regier said. ''That will bode well for creating a safe working environment for those players.''

Lamoureux, who played at the University of North Dakota, went 33-16-2 with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .923 saves percentage last season with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL.

Dineen expects Lamoureux to help stabilize the goaltending situation in Portland. Last season the Pirates used nine goalies.

''Injuries happen, and there are four spots organizationally,'' Dineen said. ''We keep an eye on that and see who's progressing, and J.P. is a real proven goalie. We feel he has a chance to develop into an (AHL) goalie.''

Dineen also expects the younger defensemen, some of whom were late-season additions, to make contributions.

''I think every year in the (AHL) there's such a turnover,'' Dineen said. ''Some of the kids that came in, especially on defense, made great strides. A guy like Mike Kostka, for a rookie and a non-draft signing, I thought he'd play a minor role but he played extremely well and played a lot of hockey.

''Now we're looking for a step up from guys like Drew Schiestel, Matt Generous and guys like that, young players who can play key roles.''

NOTES: Mark Mancari is a restricted free agent and remains unsigned by the Sabres. Mancari, a right wing, scored 29 goals and 38 assists in 73 games with the Pirates, and appeared in seven games with the Sabres. The Rochester Americans signed Matt Duffy, a defenseman from Windham, to a two-way contract.

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

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