Portland Pirates: Young veterans look to increase impact

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SACO — Twenty-two might make you a veteran in little league, high school football or college swimming.

But pro hockey?

For a handful of Portland Pirates, including 22-year-old, third-year forward Phil Lane, it’s time to be that veteran presence on a team looking to rebound from a rough season on and off the ice.

“Last year is last year,” Lane said. “We have a different group of guys this year, and we have to kind of just forget about last year and get ready for this one. It’s a new season, a new start.”

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Lane was hurt last season, playing in only 39 games and contributing three goals, three assists and 49 penalty minutes. He’s among a handful of players from which the coaching staff is looking for increased production.

“We only have, I think, four rookies under contract,” Pirates head coach and general manager Ray Edwards said. “A lot of our guys are second- and third-year guys. The development will continue, but those guys need to get results in playing the role that they’re in, whether it’s a goaltender winning games, or better numbers or whatever else. Hopefully that equates to winning more games.”

Currently, eight non-roster Arizona Coyotes players are listed as restricted free agents following the coming season. Another six are unrestricted. Two more currently with the NHL club — Brandon Gormley and Brandon McMillan — skated primarily with Portland a year ago, and they, too, are RFAs after the 2014-15 season.

“There are a lot of guys who are fighting for the next contract,” Edwards said. “We’ve got to get respect back, and they have to be in a position where their minutes will be given to them if things happen. They have to get results. It’s time for these guys to get results. The development part is great, and we’ve worked with them for a couple of years. Now it’s time to get stuff done. If they get stuff done, they’ll get more. That’s the way it works.”

It’s a lot to ask for these third-year pros. And perhaps even more to ask from some of the second-year skaters.

“It’s tough when you’re a first- or second-year pro, and you’re looked upon to be one of the older guys on the back end,” 21-year-old defenseman James Melindy said. “We had five or six rookies on the back end (last year). There weren’t a whole lot of veterans back there. This year, we picked up some good pieces and a lot of good leadership on the back end, so hopefully we younger guys can be like sponges and learn from the older guys and contribute and push hard.”

Melindy, who skated previously for Moncton in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, saw limited action last season after a leg injury forced him to watch half the season from the seats.

“Last year didn’t exactly start the way I wanted it to,” Melindy said. “Obviously, getting hit the second game and buckling my knee. I’d come into the season on a high after camp, thought things were going well. To get set back for three months was tough, but I think in the long run it might have helped me more for this year, to know what to expect, to act like and play like a pro.”

Melindy is part of a familiar group — one that includes Jordan Martinook, Lane, Brendan Shinnimin and Darian Dziurzinski and Greg Carey up front and Louis Domingue and Mark Visentin in the cage — being looked upon to produce more as veterans at a younger age. All skated last year at least in part with the Pirates.

“That will definitely help with the team chemistry,” Lane said. “And a couple of the younger guys, they’ll be able to help the rookies out after going through it last year. Some of us have been here for three years now, so we’ll have to take on more of a leadership role for the younger guys, just kind of show them the ropes and show them how to be a pro.”

“We have the same group of young guys coming back, and we mixed in a lot of older guys,” Melindy said. “Hopefully this year is a nice step in the right direction. It looks that way right now. We have a promising team, a little older so the younger guys can learn. we have to grab into it quickly and try to produce ourselves, too.”

It’s time, Edwards cautioned, to put up or move on.

“We have to be better. They have to be better,” Edwards said. “They have to find a way to take their game to another level. We’ve got to help them do that.”

Many of the players will get their first chance to do that this weekend as the Pirates play a home-and-home preseason set with the Manchester Monarchs. The Pirates’ home game will be Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, with the Monarchs’ home game played Sunday at 3 p.m. at St. Anselm College in Manchester.

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