As an opposing goaltender coming into Portland, Mike McKenna was always aware of the strong-jawed center with No. 49 on his back of his jersey and the letter “C” on the front.

“Not only is he a top scorer but he’s also someone who plays the game really hard,” said McKenna, who returned to the Pirates this season after a six-year absence. “He’s a difference-maker.”

Alexandre Bolduc has returned to the Pirates as well after spending last winter with the Chicago Wolves. And he’s picked up where he left off during a two-year stint in Portland. Bolduc leads the team with eight assists and is tied in goals (five) with Lucas Lessio.

Still, scoring is only a portion of what he brings to the Pirates.

Bolduc, 29, has nine AHL seasons and portions of five NHL seasons under his belt. He played in the Stanley Cup finals with Vancouver in 2011.

“He’s just really good for young players,” said Coach Ray Edwards, who pairs Bolduc with 20-year-old rookie Henrik Samuelsson, a 2012 first-round draft pick, on one of Portland’s top lines. “He’s had a lot of experiences. He’s been through ups and down in his career. So he brings a lot to the table.”

“He’s made it all easier for me, the transition from junior to pro hockey,” said Samuelsson. “He’s been extremely helpful in my progress. Just small stuff like practice habits, how I need to perform in the game, how I can’t take shifts off. If I’m down on myself, he’ll get me up.”

The Pirates (7-6) return this weekend with home games Friday and Saturday nights against Albany before heading to Providence for a Sunday matinee. Next week they play three games in four nights, first in Pennsylvania, then in Virginia.

On Tuesday night the Pirates saw both their five-game winning streak and unbeaten record at home snapped in a 4-0 loss to Manchester.

Just as he didn’t worry over the Pirates losing four straight after winning their season opener, Bolduc doesn’t fret over an off night.

“The biggest worry as a captain or as a coach is when you have guys who don’t care, or don’t want to play for the team, which we don’t have here,” Bolduc said. “I saw that right from one of the first days I got here. The group of guys we had cared, and cared for each other.”

Bolduc has had his share of setbacks off the ice. His father died shortly after being diagnosed with colon cancer when Bolduc was 21 and playing in Manitoba. Last November his mother survived a brain aneurysm only because his younger brother, Tyler, was able to perform CPR and revive her.

“I missed about a month and a half last year just going to the hospital,” Bolduc said. “It was a tough time but she’s back and pretty healthy. Getting her memory back is going to take some time but considering from where she came, from almost losing her, it’s a pretty big deal to have her around.”

Over the summer Bolduc opened a gym and hockey training center in his hometown of Chateauguay, Quebec, a Montreal suburb. His co-owner is Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, Bolduc’s best friend since early childhood. Another buddy from kindergarten, Mark Hurtubise, plays pro hockey in Sweden.

Bolduc inherited a black 1969 Plymouth Road Runner from his dad and recently installed a new engine. Crawford owns a ’69 Chevelle and a ’69 Camaro. They occasionally head to the Napierville Dragway south of Montreal to race each other.

“We don’t race on the streets or anything,” Bolduc said. “We’ll bring them to the track and let ’em loose there. We brought the cars to where my dad and my uncle used to race. That was pretty special, going there.”

Yes, Bolduc said, it gets competitive. He can beat Crawford’s Chevelle but not the Camaro. Simply being around the loud engines, revving up his dad’s old Road Runner, is enough to bring back fond memories of childhood.

Bolduc’s competitive drive can get him in trouble, as well. His 11 minor penalties also lead the Pirates.

“We need him to manage that a little better,” Edwards said. “I still think his game can get way better, and I think he does, too.”

His next chance comes Friday night.

NOTES: The Pirates recalled defenseman Jordan Southorn from the ECHL on Thursday. Veteran forward Paul Bissonnette, who signed an AHL professional tryout contract with the Pirates in late October after spending the previous five seasons with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, is expected to make his Portland debut this weekend. Illness has kept him out of action. Bissonnette’s contract allows him to compete in up to 25 AHL games.