July 15, 2011

Pirates fans told Coyotes planning for a good team

Phoenix executives say they are happy to be in a market where hockey has a longtime tradition.

By Rachel Lenzi rlenzi@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Brenda Hoffman faced the Phoenix Coyotes' management contingent in front of her and a crowd of Portland Pirates fans, and didn't hesitate to ask a tough question.

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A sampling of questions Portland Pirates fans asked Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney, assistant general manager Brad Treliving and Pirates Coach Ray Edwards during a panel Thursday:

Who will be the goalies in Portland this season?

Treliving said goaltending is an area in which the Pirates will have depth. The Coyotes have Jason LaBarbera, Mike Smith and Curtis McElhinney under contract, but aim to have five goaltenders between their NHL and AHL teams.

What style of play will be the trademark of the Pirates?

Edwards said he wants his team to be one that emphasizes defense, finishing plays and winning pucks, an up-tempo pace that, he said, "will be fun to watch. We're going to work and I think you guys will enjoy it."

"Are you coming in as a strong team or are we going to be devastated?" Hoffman stated.

Phoenix General Manager Don Maloney didn't flinch. Nor did his counterparts, despite the fact that Phoenix's American Hockey League affiliate has made the playoffs once in the last six seasons.

Nor did the other Pirates fans who filled almost every seat Thursday in the Penalty Box Grille, a Cumberland County Civic Center function room.

"The proof will be in the pudding," Maloney said. "We know we have to compete with the teams in the East, but we know we'll have a good team here."

Seventeen days after the Coyotes announced the Portland Pirates as their AHL affiliate, Maloney, Coyotes assistant general manager Brad Treliving and Pirates Coach Ray Edwards met the fans and local media in a question-and-answer panel.

Maloney, Treliving and Edwards fielded a variety of questions, and Treliving was encouraged by the attendance.

"It reinforces to us the importance this team has in the community," Treliving said. "You always want to be somewhere where the people follow and it's important. But even from a development standpoint, one thing that, when we were looking at Portland, is the sport matters here. The team matters here. So with that comes expectations.

"Those are external pressures that are put on the team for performance and I think that's a good thing. People expect and want to have success, and it's a good process for our young guys to want to go through."

Hoffman and her family, who are entering their third season as season-ticket holders, said the event was significant.

"It means that they not only care about just their players and their staff, but their fan base as well," Hoffman said. "To me it means these guys look like they know their fans are going to be the backbone of their support. They need us. We need them. It's a hand-in-hand relationship."

Last season, San Antonio's attendance averaged 6,411 (seventh in the AHL). Portland averaged 4,655 per game (18th in the AHL), and the Rampage won the President's Award, given annually to an organization for its off-ice excellence.

"It's no different than a lot of the southern markets," Treliving said. "The sport is still relatively new there. There wasn't a group of people who followed the sport for a long period of time. The folks in San Antonio followed the team and the team did a great job, but it wasn't necessarily an area where people had a long history with the sport. But we enjoyed our time."

Hoffman believed the change in affiliation will help bring fans back. But a media member asked what it would take -- aside from winning -- to engage the new organization, new players and new staff to the longtime fans and to the community.

"Be available," Edwards said. "All of us are from a background of how important the fans and the media are to the lifeblood of the game. We understand the commitment it takes, and we're 100 percent on board."

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at rlenzi@pressherald.com

Twitter: rlenzi

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