SACO — The words came out with a nasal tone, as if Mike McKenna were fighting a cold.

Only it wasn’t that, he insisted. His health is fine.

“If we skate really hard, sometimes the sweat gets in my ears,” he said. “I’m totally healthy, but I can’t really hear myself.”

When the Portland Pirates hit the ice Tuesday morning for their first workout in Maine as an affiliate of the NHL Florida Panthers, they didn’t hold back. They battled in close quarters. They competed in fast-paced drills. They produced plenty of sweat.

They have two exhibition games before their 23rd American Hockey League opener, one Wednesday night in Massachusetts and the other Thursday night in Saco.

McKenna, last year’s Most Valuable Player, is the only holdover from the group that re-established professional hockey in Portland last winter after a torturous 2013-14 campaign that saw home games played in Lewiston.

“There’s a different feel for sure,” McKenna said of his familiar surroundings, familiar jerseys, but completely different teammates and coaching staff. “But for me, it’s always exciting to do something different.”

McKenna, 32, is one of three goaltenders in camp. On Tuesday they were joined by seven defensemen and 15 forwards divided into threesomes. With Florida still needing to trim its roster, as many as eight more players may fall to Portland before the season opener on Oct. 11 in Providence, Rhode Island.

The young men skating at the OA Sports Center on Tuesday morning all looked as if they were competing for a job. Indeed, six of the 25 are here on professional tryout contracts.

“It’s not going to be fun when we have to cut some guys,” said Tom Rowe, the team’s new head coach. “But the reality is, some learn quicker than others. They’re going to find out real fast, we expect to win the Calder Cup. There’s no other way about it. We’re not here just to develop players. We’re here to win. The only way you develop is to win.”

Rowe and assistant coach Scott Allen guided Florida’s AHL affiliate last season in San Antonio to a division title before being swept in the first round of playoffs. The Pirates, in the culmination of a four-year affiliation with the Arizona Coyotes, extended eventual Calder Cup champion Manchester to a winner-take-all fifth game before bowing out in the first round.

Logan Shaw, a right wing for San Antonio the past two seasons, said players enjoyed their time in Texas but welcome the change to New England.

“The fans were great, the area was spectacular,” he said. “But we were pretty happy to move up here. It’s the Northeast. It’s a hockey community. The fans are going to be pretty special here.”

A Nova Scotia native, Shaw also saw San Antonio improve from last place in 2013-14 to the best regular-season record in team history under Rowe, who took over the Rampage 11 games into the 2013-14 season. Shaw quickly learned what to expect from this staff, as will fans in Portland.

“They should expect a hard-working team with a lot of speed,” he said. “Our plan is to play fast and hard for 60 minutes. These coaches will hold each player accountable, each game.”

Rowe said he expects to break camp with four lines, seven defensemen, two goalies and an extra forward.

“It’s going to be 22-23 men on the roster and that’s it,” he said. “It may even be less than that. Manchester’s just down the road, so if we need anybody, we can call him up from there.”

Despite winning its first Calder Cup, Manchester lost its AHL affiliation when the parent Los Angeles Kings joined with four NHL teams in relocating their top farm clubs to California for a new Pacific Division, which will also include San Antonio and Texas. The Monarchs will compete in the ECHL using Kings and Panthers prospects.

“The first day went really well,” said Pirates GM Eric Joyce. “We wanted to get the guys put in as many game situations as possible. That’s why you saw a lot of high-level, compete, battle drills, one-on-ones, two-on-twos.”

Among those new to the Florida system are left wing Rob Flick, who scored 19 goals for Providence last season; defenseman Brent Regner, who had 23 assists and wore the ‘C’ as captain of the Chicago Wolves last season; and Rob Schremp, a former first-round pick of Edmonton with 114 NHL games under his belt who spent the past four seasons playing overseas.

For each of them, as well as for the rest of the new Pirates, McKenna provided a five-page report about Greater Portland covering everything from housing to restaurants to nightlife to childcare to dog grooming to hair salons (for both men and women).

“I figured it was a pre-emptive strike so if they start asking me a pile of questions, I can just say, ‘Refer to Page 4,’ ” McKenna said. “But really, I want my teammates to enjoy the city as much as I have. There’s so much here but you kind of need somebody to show you a bit because it’s all tucked away in little spaces.”