SACO — They came, they practiced, they lifted.

And then, they mingled.

The Portland Pirates held their annual media day Wednesday at the MHG Ice Centre, and for many of the players and those meeting them, it was more than necessary.

When the Pirates open their season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston on Oct. 9, they’ll do so with a bevy of fresh faces. Six players who skated at least half a season with the team a year ago are now skating in the National Hockey League. Another handful are skating for other teams or leagues scattered across the world.

That leaves the Pirates with a young group. Their average age is 23.

“They’re hungry, they’re excited, and from a coaching perspective, they’re coachable and there’s no maintenance to them,” Pirates coach Ray Edwards said. “They just want to get better every day and work hard every day. That’s a fun group to coach.”

Fun, perhaps, but it’s also a challenge faced by many minor league sports franchises. The Pirates’ primary objective is to develop players into NHL-ready talent, and they are the final steppingstone in that process for the prospects in the Phoenix Coyotes farm system.

“Our job is to develop,” Edwards said. “Some nights, we’ll be lighter than others; that’s just the way it is,” Edwards said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to try to win. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to try to be as competitive as we can. The lineup that’s in that night will have to find a way to try to get things done.”

Andy Miele, who won the Hobey Baker Award as the best NCAA hockey player in the country while skating for Miami of Ohio in 2011, made his professional debut two years ago for the Pirates as one of those “younger” players. He scored in his first game, and last year, in his second season, led the team in scoring with 53 points.

He’s been called up to the NHL a few times, earning a few games’ worth of playing time, but he’s still searching for his first big-league point. He had a solid camp this season and was one of the Coyotes’ final cuts. Now, as a third-year pro and at 25 years old, he’s a veteran.

Another of the older players on the team is familiar to many Pirates fans. Once a member of the team when it was affiliated with the Buffalo Sabres, Tim Kennedy has since played in 125 NHL games and for four other AHL squads, most recently last season for the Worcester Sharks.

“I’m guess that makes me a veteran now,” Kennedy said. “It’s uncommon to be one of the oldest guys on a team at 27, but this team went really young. That’s something I like. We have a good group of guys here, a good group of forwards, a good group of young ‘D’ and two good young goalies, so there might be some growing problems at the start, but there’s a lot of guys back from last year and they had a lot of success. We want to build off that.”

Wednesday, he was one of a handful of familiar players Edwards rattled off as he explained who might make up for the lost scoring depth.

“We’ve added Tim Kennedy and Brandon Yip, guys that will produce for you,” Edwards said. “Guys like (Jordan) Szwarz and (Ethan) Werek and (Brett) Hextall and (Brendan) Shinnimin and (Jordan) Martinook and (Phil) Lane and (Darian) Dziurzynski, those are all guys who are going to have to step up and find a way to get things done.”

Part of the reason this year’s team varies from last year’s opening-night roster has plenty to do with the NHL lockout, which allowed several players a chance to play in the AHL for the first half of the season. But the variance from the Pirates’ playoff roster last spring is just as large.

“The reality of this league is that coaches have to deal with people coming in and going out,” Edwards said. “That’s just part of it, and we’re no different than any other team in the league.”

Despite a pair of preseason losses to the Manchester Monarchs, the Pirates are optimistic that this season, even with the roster turnover, will again be solid. They finished with 41 wins in 2012-13 and made the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.

“I think we have a good group of forwards, a lot of returning guys,” returning defenseman Brandon Gormley said. “We have a lot of young guys on defense. We have to make sure we’re on our toes every game. We obviously have great goal-tending, too. I think once those first few games set in, our ‘D’ corps will settle down and get used to playing the pro game and we’ll be fine.”

The AHL opens its season this weekend with a full slate of games, but the Pirates will wait a few days for their opener. Originally scheduled for Oct. 12, the team’s first home game of the season will now be Wednesday, Oct. 9. The team will play all of its home games — 38 regular-season contests plus the playoffs — at the Colisee in Lewiston after a dispute over a lease with the Cumberland County Civic Center board of trustees resulted in the team vacating that building.

The Oct. 9 opener was a game originally scheduled for the weekend of March 22, 2014, during which time the Colisee will host the NCAA Division III National Championship.

NOTE: Wednesday morning there were still 24 skaters and three goalies on the ice for practice. That number is better, Edwards said, than what it was to begin the week, but it will shrink again before the beginning of the season.


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