SACO — While most of the American Hockey League’s 30 teams began play last weekend, the Portland Pirates were still practicing.

And practicing.

“We’ve had a long couple weeks of practice, and I think the guys are getting more antsy to get into some game action,” Pirates’ captain Jordan Szwarz said. “We saw the AHL start up this past weekend, and we wanted to be playing a game on the weekend, but that’s not the way the schedule worked out for us, so we’re antsy to get going here.”

Wednesday, the Pirates get that chance when they host the Manchester Monarchs — the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate — in their home opener at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

For opening-day opponents, the Monarchs are a good fit, if only for familiarity’s sake.

“We see them up top in exhibition games as well, and we’ve been playing against them for three years,” Edwards said. “We have the same coaching staffs. They know us; we know them. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of secrets between the two teams. It comes down to making sure the team is prepared, then it comes down to the one-on-ones, the 50-50 pucks, the compete level, all that stuff.”

The Monarchs lost in a shootout in their first, and to date only, game this season, a 3-2 setback to the Springfield Falcons.

In preseason play, the Pirates’ lone two games were against Manchester, as well. The Monarchs won both.

Still, the Pirates are confident, particularly about their forward group, which promises to be speedy.

“I think we have a really good group of forwards, I think we’ll be able to score a lot of goals,” forward Brandon McMillan said. “It’s going to be fun, fast exciting hockey. We have a fast group out front, and we’re going to give opposing defenses trouble on the forecheck and on the rush.”

McMillan, Szwarz and NHL-seasoned acquisitions Brandon Yip and Tim Kennedy join returning leading scorer Andy Miele on the front line.

The biggest turnover the whole Coyotes’ organization has seen in recent years has been on the blue line. Only two of this year’s six roster defensemen have ample AHL experience, putting the onus on the forward group to help out defensively.

“We’re well aware we have a young group back there,” Szwarz said. “When we’re on the ice, we work as a five-man unit, and as long as the forwards are doing their job defensively, I think that will help out a lot.”

“We’ve been the beneficiary of some really good drafts over the past four or five years on our defense,” Edwards said. “Mike Stone, Chris Summers, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, we traded for David Rundblad … we’ve been the beneficiary of some good defensemen who have come through our minor league team, and they’re all up in the NHL playing. So now it’s time to get the next group of guys. We’ve got it, and it’s out job as coaches to develop them and push them along as quickly as we can.”

That process begins again Wednesday in Lewiston, a game for which the team — from players to coaches — is more than ready.

“The guys are ready to play some games that mean something,” Edwards said. “It’s tough not playing the opening weekend. But it is what it is, so now we’re ready to go.

“It’d be nice,” Edwards added, “it’s always nice to get the first win out of the way.”


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