January 3, 2011

Reporter suffers only a bruised ego playing goalie

Maine at Work: Bob Keyes discovers the level of athleticism, skill and commitment it takes to skate with the Portland Pirates.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - I hear the news as I arrive at the rink. Mark Mancari, the menacing sniper for the Portland Pirates with a 100-mph slap shot, has been called up to Buffalo. I will not be facing him when I step in as practice goalie for the American Hockey League team.

click image to enlarge

Reporter Bob Keyes survives a stint in the goal during a Portland Pirates practice.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Reporter Bob Keyes, far left, listens during a pre-practice meeting with the Portland Pirates before taking the ice.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

THIS WEEK'S JOB

TITLE: Goaltender for the Portland Pirates.

WORKERS: Jhonas Enroth and David Leggio.

HOURS: On game days, players are due at the rink by 9 a.m. They have time off in the afternoon, but their day ends 12 hours later.

DUTIES: Stopping pucks.

SALARY RANGE: $500,000 to $900,000.

SURPRISING FACTS: Goalies do not mind getting hit in the head with the puck. It counts as a save.

PERKS: The chance to prove yourself in the National Hockey League if you perform well in Portland.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

MAINE AT WORK takes an interactive look at iconic, visible or just plain interesting jobs done by folks in Maine. This week, Maine at Work author Ray Routhier steps aside to allow his hockey-playing colleague Bob Keyes the chance to play goalie for the Portland Pirates.

IF YOU'D LIKE to suggest a job to be explored in this feature, e-mail rrouthier@pressherald.com or call 791-6454.

I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or relieved. But my outlook changes considerably: I'm less scared.

I've been thinking about Mancari a lot -- pretty much 24/7 -- since Pirates coach Kevin Dineen signed off on allowing a journalist to join the team for a game-day skate. Mancari shoots the puck harder than many guys at the NHL level, and his call-up confirms his status as a legitimate NHL talent.

I want to face him, just to see what it's like.

When equipment manager Ben Laing tells me that Mancari won't be skating, the butterflies vanish. I know I'll still face harder, crisper shots than I've seen before, delivered by shooters with the ability to snipe corners and score at will. But the guy who haunts me isn't going to be on the ice.

I arrive at the Cumberland County Civic Center at 8:30 on a Tuesday morning in advance of that night's 6:30 start against Worcester.

Mark Jeanneret, the team's PR guy, meets me at the players' entrance and tells me to leave my gear in the lobby so he can introduce me around. There are papers to sign, he says. I assume it's a waiver, releasing the team of liability in the event of injury, maiming or worse.

But, no.

This is an American Hockey League Amateur Try-Out Agreement. I have to sign a contract, and Jeanneret has to file paperwork with the league. With the stroke of a pen, a long-held fantasy comes true. I often joke that I'm never too old to give up my dream of playing professional hockey. Now I have a contract to prove it.

The players are due at 9, and a few have already arrived. Laing takes my gear as Jeanneret whisks me through the locker room and weight room and into Dineen's office. Assistant coach Eric Weinrich is writing at a table, and Dineen has his head in his computer. Both are focused, and appear to be working seriously.

We shake hands. I thank them for letting me skate with the team. They welcome me, tell me to ask for help if I need anything, and say they will see me with the other guys for video review in about half an hour.

"Go get dressed," Dineen says. I am dismissed.

WHO'S THE NEW GUY?

The locker room is coming to life with loud music and quiet morning greetings. Some players work out lightly in the weight room. Several sprawl on a sofa watching video highlights of NHL games on TV.

Fitness equipment and weights fill a large open room off Dineen's office, and there's a scale in the walkway that leads to the locker room. The team requires every player to weigh in at the beginning and end of each session.

There are mounds of bananas, piles of oranges, stacks of yogurts, energy bars, energy drinks and water, and a spread of bagels, juice and coffee.

Laing takes me to my locker. The Pirates made a name tag for me -- KEYES, it says in big bold letters, with a Pirates logo on one side and a Buffalo Sabres logo on the other.

My equipment bag is nowhere in sight. Instead, my gear is arranged neatly with my red helmet on top of the stall, my skates hanging from hooks, my blocker and catcher on a shelf and the rest of my stuff hanging or resting at the bottom.

(Continued on page 2)

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