March 17, 2011

Pirates Notebook: It's hard to overlook Gragnani

By Paul Betit pbetit@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

2010 Buffalo Sabres Headhsots
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Marc-Andre Gragnani

COMING UP

FRIDAY: Pirates at Binghamton Senators, 7:05 p.m.

SATURDAY: Pirates at Hershey Bears, 7 p.m.

SUNDAY: Pirates at Providence Bruins, 4 p.m.

TUESDAY: Worcester Sharks at Pirates, 11 a.m.

While rewriting portions of the Portland Pirates' record book, defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani is building a great resume for winning a job in the NHL.

Gragnani, who turned 24 last Friday, last weekend established team records for most points (54) and most assists (43) in a season by a defenseman.

The Pirates have 15 games left in the regular season, so Gragnani, who is in the midst of a seven-game points streak, should add to both of those totals.

"We were talking at the beginning of the year, and one of his goals was to be one of the AHL's top offensive guys and he's doing that now," said Portland assistant coach Eric Weinrich, a veteran of 17 NHL seasons as a defenseman.

Gragnani currently leads the AHL's defensemen in assists and total points.

"Whatever he does, he's got to stand out," Weinrich said. "He's got to make an impression on whoever it is, whether he gets moved up to (the Buffalo Sabres) or another NHL team. There's a lot of scouts watching games. He's just got to be visible."

Gragnani, who is from Montreal and is in his fourth AHL season, always has had a knack for offense. Two years ago, he recorded the team record for assists (42), which he eclipsed last weekend.

Up to now, it's been Gragnani's defensive play which has kept him from moving up to the NHL.

"I think (defense) is one of the reasons I've been in the minors for four years," he said. "I've had to work on that and I think I did."

Gragnani is especially proud of his plus-minus rating of plus-21, which ties him for fourth place in that category among AHL defensemen.

"When (the team) has the puck, you don't have to play defense, and I think he's getting a lot better at making the outlet passes and limiting turnovers," Weinrich said.

"He has the ability to dominate both ways if he really puts his mind to it. He's been more conscious of it.

"He's really in a groove right now. He's playing well."

For Gragnani, it has come down to being strong at both ends of the ice.

"I'm just working harder and being more aware of the defensive side and working with the coaches and my teammates, and just realizing if I didn't make a change I wasn't going to make it (to the NHL)," he said. "I think I've made that change and I want to get my chance now."

IT DIDN'T TAKE Brian O'Hanley long to find another job in the AHL.

The Pirates released the former Boston College defenseman Tuesday from a professional tryout contract, and the Rochester Americans signed him to a similar contract Wednesday for the second time this season.

"He showed he could play and he helped us have a pretty good record while he was here," Weinrich said. "I'm happy for him."

O'Hanley, who grew up in Quincy, Mass., had two assists in 16 games with the Pirates, who went 11-3-1-1 in that time.

O'Hanley made his AHL debut with Rochester in January and scored a goal in a two-game stint. O'Hanley, in his third full pro season, also had six goals and 20 assists in 44 games with Cincinnati of the ECHL.

O'Hanley will join a Rochester team that already includes former Portland defensemen Paul Baier, Joe Callahan and Mike Kostka on its roster.

THE PIRATES WERE scheduled to leave at 8 a.m. today on their second-longest road trip of the season.

They traveled to Binghamton, N.Y., where they play the Senators at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Center Friday night.

Immediately after that game, they will take a three-hour bus ride to Hershey, Pa., where they will play the Bears at the Giant Center Saturday night.

Next, the Pirates will travel 350 miles through the night to play the Providence Bruins at the Dunkin' Donuts Center Sunday afternoon.

THE PIRATES BEGIN a five-game homestand with a game Tuesday morning against Worcester at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

More than 4,500 students from elementary, middle and high schools in Camden; Effingham, N.H.; Gray; Madison; Naples; Portland; Old Orchard Beach; Sanford; Scarborough; Saco; Topsham and Union will attend the rare 11 a.m. game.

Blocks of tickets to the event were donated by Irving Oil and Modern Woodmen Of America insurance and investment company.

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

pbetit@pressherald.com

 

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