March 13, 2010

Pirates short on defense with opener days away

PAUL BETIT

— By

Staff Writer

The regular season hasn't started yet and Portland Pirates Coach Kevin Dineen already is working the phones trying to find defensive help for his team.

Only four defensemen were available at Tuesday's practice at the Portland Ice Arena.

Unsure whether the Buffalo Sabres, the Pirates' new NHL parent, will be able to assign any more defensemen before Saturday night's opener against the Manchester Monarchs at the Cumberland County Civic Center, Dineen looked elsewhere for help.

''I'm going to make a lot of phone calls to a lot of people to bolster our blue line,'' he said.

Defensemen at Tuesday's practice were rookies Paul Baier and Mike Kostka, second-year pro Marc-Andre Gragnani and third-year pro Mike Card.

Tyler Bouck, a forward who played defense for the first time in his nine pro seasons during the Pirates' 5-3 win against Albany in Sunday's exhibition game at Fitchburg, Mass., practiced as a defenseman Tuesday morning.

Rookie defenseman Chris Butler, out with a sore right wrist, is expected to return for Thursday morning's practice, while Mike Funk, who played 58 games for the Rochester Americans last season, remained with the Sabres recovering from an injury.

Despite the shortage of defensemen, Dineen believed the practices have been going well.

''There's a feeling-out process going on here,'' he said. ''It's hard to put all the pieces together when you're still trying to put together line combinations and find your team chemistry.''

With the arrival of eight players from Buffalo last weekend, the Pirates' roster expanded to 21.

''We only had 12 guys here for the first five days of practice, and it's hard to judge what kind of team we're going to be from that,'' Bouck said. ''We definitely have to pick things up this week.''

NOTES: Forward Mike Hoffman, who spent the last season and a half with the Pirates, could start the season in the NHL with Atlanta following cuts that reduced the Thrashers' roster to 23, the maximum allowed ... Former Pirates forwards Ryan Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Corey Perry and Brian Southerby as well as defenseman Kent Huskins and goalkeeper Jonas Hiller were named to the Anaheim Ducks' opening-day roster ... Former Portland defenseman Brett Skinner, who played in the AHL for Providence last season, will start the season in the NHL with the New York Islanders ... The Carolina Hurricanes sent former Portland tough guy Trevor Gillies to the AHL's Albany River Rats ... The Portland Pirates' Foundation raised more than $7,000 for the United Way of Greater Portland at its fifth annual Crackers Golf Classic Monday at the Dunegrass Golf Tournament in Old Orchard Beach.

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

pbetit@pressherald.com

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