SACO — The city of Saginaw, Mich., is smaller than Portland, larger than Lewiston and has a fervent base of hockey fans to rival either Maine city.

There, the hockey faithful cheer for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League, where they embraced Jordan Szwarz as a player — and eventually their captain — for four seasons.

In Maine, Szwarz will again bear the mark of a hockey leader, earning the captain’s ‘C’ this season for the Portland Pirates, his third full season with the American Hockey League franchise.

“It’s a big honor for me,” Szwarz said. “Just to know that the coaching staff has trust in me enough to put me in that position. Being captain is something I’ve had the privilege of doing in the past. I was captain with my junior team in Saginaw, and last year I wore an ‘A’ with Portland. It’s something I’m confident in doing and happy to be leading such a good group of guys.”

The Phoenix Coyotes, parent club of the Pirates, drafted Szwarz in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL draft, 97th overall. He played in one AHL game with San Antonio Rampage, then the Coyotes’ affiliate, after his 18-year-old season in Saginaw before returning to the Spirit for his 19-year-old season.

There, he put up 27 goals and 39 assists for 66 points with 90 penalty minutes. His point total was second on the team, and marked a third consecutive season during which he increased his output.

“I’ve noticed the same pattern, and hopefully I can up my total from last year here,” Szwarz said. “I think my approach has to be, just keep doing what I’m doing. It’s worked out for me so far, and I have a style of play I like to stick to, and if I keep playing that style, I think things will work out for me.”

His style, Szwarz noted, isn’t always conducive to leading the way in goals or assists.

“I define myself as a two-way type player,” Szwarz said. “I take a lot of pride in the hard-working aspect of my game. One of my main goals this year is to bring more of an offensive upside to the team.”

Points, said Pirates’ head coach Ray Edwards, are not the entirety of what Szwarz brings to the team.

“Coaches understand what he brings to the table,” Edwards said. “The layman fan may not understand it, because they don’t know the detail. He plays with detail. He’s a trustworthy guy, You can play him in any situation. You can play him up in the lineup. You can play him down in the lineup. You can play him in the middle; you can play him on the left wing. As a coach, he’s a guy with a lot of versatility. You can’t put a price on what he brings to the table.”

It’s that versatility, and the work ethic, that led to Szwarz wearing an ‘A’ as an alternate captain as a 20-year-old AHL rookie.

“Even his first year, about 40-50 games into the season, we had a bunch of injuries and call-ups, and we gave him a letter his first year,” Edwards said. “You don’t hear that very often. Our leaders at the time were 100 percent in favor of it. So he’s shown leadership from day one. He’s a respected teammate, and it’s all in the way he conducts himself. He understands what we want as coaches, and what the organization’s identity is, and he’s everything we want as a player and as a captain.”

The 2013-14 season is also big for Szwarz in terms of his career. In the third year of his three-year, entry-level contract with the Coyotes, he becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

“It’s a big year for me, I’m just going to work hard every day at the rink and hopefully good things come out of that hard work,” Szwarz said.

“He’s close to being an NHL player, a lot of these guys are,” Edwards said. “It’s going to be a really good competition for who the first guy to go (to Phoenix) is. You’ve got a handful of guys who are really pushing the envelope to be that guy. Szwarz, his role is obviously going to expand from a leadership perspective, but on the ice as well. He’s going to be looked upon to play all roles.”

That’s something Szwarz said he is looking forward to very much.

“I’ve been with the organization now for five years since they drafted me, I think I’ve had two really good years in the development system,” Szwarz said. “I had a pretty good run there in training camp this year, I was one of the last guys to be let go there, and hopefully I work hard here, have a good mindset and have an opportunity at some point to shoot up (to Phoenix).”


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