Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By BRUCE BERLET, Special to the Telegram
HARTFORD, Conn. — Portland Pirates rookie wing Tyler Ennis wishes he could play every game against the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Ennis scored his seventh goal of the season in five games against the Wolf Pack on Saturday night, taking a centering pass from Marc-Andre Gragnani and beating Chad Johnson high with 1:58 left in overtime to give the Pirates a 2-1 victory before 4,723 at the XL Center.
With defenseman Mathieu Dandenault off for interference, Ennis converted from 20 feet in the slot for his 19th goal, three behind team leader Mark Mancari, enabling the Pirates (34-18-5-3) to end a 1-2-0-1 mini-skid after a franchise-record, 11-game winning streak.
''I don't know why I do so well against them,'' said Ennis, 19, the Buffalo Sabres' No. 1 pick (26th overall) in 2008 and a member of Canada's gold medal-winning team in the world junior championships in 2009. ''I guess it just must be luck, but it helps playing with two great players (Mancari and Brad Larsen).
''We had been working the puck around on the perimeter on the power play trying to load up Mancari as much as we can because he has a super-hard shot. Then just to change the look up a bit, I just snuck into the middle to try to open up a seam for Gragnani. He just laid it in there for me, and I just found a soft spot and just tried to shoot through the screen.''
Ennis leads AHL rookies in scoring (19 goals, 39 assists in 60 games) and had his only pro hat trick in a 6-3 victory over the Wolf Pack on Nov. 16. Ennis' latest heroics gave the Pirates their fourth victory in five games against the Wolf Pack and moved them within one point of Atlantic Division leader Worcester, which lost 4-3 to Abbotsford.
Pirates Coach Kevin Dineen noted his team's perseverance and Ennis' showing against a team that had added Dandenault, right wing P.A. Parenteau, defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti and center Andres Ambuhl, just back from playing for Switzerland in the Winter Olympics.
''The Wolf Pack are a lot different and better group than they were two weeks ago,'' Dineen said, referring to Portland's 7-4 win on Feb. 15. ''It was a hard-fought win by us. We have been scratching and clawing, and when you're trying to find some energy throughout the lineup, you take it from where you can get it.
''I've been talking about stick-with-it-ness, and we seemed to have a little bit of that tonight. There's not a lot of give, and we're finding ways to win games. Our goaltending has been very good, as it was tonight (with Jhonas Enroth), and Ennis has been a good player and had a really good series against (the Wolf Pack). He's a special kid who has just been finding a way. He's not big (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), but he goes to the net real hard and has really been a difference for us.''