SACO — Here one day, gone the next.

Such is life in the American Hockey League, the top development league for the NHL. Particularly for an organization like the Phoenix Coyotes, which regards the Portland Pirates as a true breeding ground for its players to grow and get ready to be top-level professional players.

Add to the mix a daunting early-season schedule for the NHL club, and the AHL roster becomes as fluid as an outdoor rink in July.

The Pirates have been feeling that sting in recent days. They have seen the roster turn over a handful of times in the past week.

“The Coyotes played a lot of games in a short amount of time,” Pirates’ coach Ray Edwards said. “They played 10 games in the first 15 or 17 days. So when you do that, you’re going to have injuries, you’re going to have situations. The good thing for us there is that we have some depth, not only here but we have guys in the ECHL that we feel could come up if we need them to. But our depth is being tested now, losing Andy (Miele), (Jordan) Szwarz and (Tim) Kennedy. But that’s good. That’s part of the deal here. These guys get an opportunity, and hopefully when they get in the lineup, they do a good job and that will be good.”

Moving parts also means switching roles of some of the players who are constant, such as forward Brendan Shinnimin.


“It’s obviously great for those guys to get the opportunity,” Shinnimin said. “It kind of trickles down the line, and it kind of gives guys like me the opportunity to step into their roles and contribute what they brought offensively.”

Not that Shinnimin is a stranger to offense. As a 20-year-old skater for the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League, the speedster put up 58 goals and 134 points in 2011-12.

“Coming out of juniors, being an offensive guy, I’ve gotten a little bit of offensive opportunity here,” Shinnimin said, “but I’ve been put into a role here as a role-player to bring energy. Now that there’s this opportunity to bring a little more offense, it’s exciting and I’m ready for it.”

“Shinnimin is going to get more opportunities. He’s going to have to score more for us,” Edwards said.

Shinnimin flashed some of that prowess a year ago. After the NHL lockout ended and teams across the AHL had to, in some cases radically adjust rosters, Shinnimin shined, putting up a stretch of seven games in which he produced better than a point per game. He finished 2012-13 with 12 goals and 33 points as a rookie.

“I think it’s a good opportunity and a good challenge for me to be in that position,” Shinnimin said.


Adding experience

In a move designed to be mutually beneficial, the Pirates this week inked veteran defenseman Randy Jones to a PTO contract. Jones has played 365 games in the NHL as a blueliner, netting 20 goals and recording 105 points with 185 penalty minutes. After spending the first seven seasons of his pro career with the Philadelphia Flyers’ organization, Jones saw action with the L.A. Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets from 2009-12.

Last season, Jones spent just 18 games in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons.

“We’re young back there, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing,” Edwards said, “but having a guy like Jones come in can really help them. We have a guy on the ice that can help settle them down and they can watch the way he works, the way he conducts himself every day. There’s obviously a million things playing the position a guy like him can help with. He can be an extension of (assistant coach) John Slaney back there.”

Edwards said having a player who doesn’t mind the daily grind of a minor league team is a bonus.

“We do practice a lot. It’s like school here,” Edwards said. “You have to put some hours in. For some veteran guys, they don’t want that. But if they don’t want that, they need to go somewhere else, because that’s how we do things here.


“What we were looking for is exactly what we got,” Edwards added. “We were looking for a veteran guy who still is hungry to play and hungry for an opportunity to play at the next level. A left shot, a guy that can defend, a guy that can play top four, but that can help (Connor) Murphy and (Brandon) Gormley and (Mathieu) Brisebois and (Daine) Todd and (James) Melindy, those young players, to help with their growth.”

Up next

Wednesday night marks the Pirates’ fourth home game of the season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, and their first at home since registering their first two victories of the season.

Not that the staff feels the team has been playing poorly.

“It’s not like we were playing that bad,” Edwards said. “I thought we played OK in the two wins, too. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement, but we got the results, so everyone’s happy with that. But to me, I don’t feel like we played any worse or any better, we just won.”

“I think three of the first four games, we probably should have won,” Shinnimin said, “and given the chance to play them again we probably could have won them. We stuck to it even though it was frustrating. Coach did a good job of keeping us positive and the captains did as well, and it showed.”


One big reason for the turnaround in the win column was the team’s discipline. After a game in Worcester, where the team took eight minor penalties, the Pirates turned around and committed only two minor penalties in a win over Hartford.

“Part of that was that we managed games better,” Edwards said. “We understood momentum shifts better.”

Wednesday and Friday, Portland hosts the St. John’s IceCaps, the top minor league affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets. The IceCaps are 3-5-1 in nine games this season. Because of the distance they travel for all road games, the IceCaps play series’ of games on a regular basis. On this trip, the IceCaps will skate in Lewiston against the Pirates both Wednesday and Friday before moving on to Worcester on Saturday.

Eric O’Dell leads St. John’s in scoring this season with five goals and nine points in nine games. Former UMaine defenseman Will O’Neill has one goal and five points, his one goal coming on the power play. Eddie Pasquale has seen the majority of the time between the pipes for the IceCaps. Pasquale was a teammate of Pirates’ captain Jordan Szwarz with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL.

Injury report

Two injured Pirates are working their way back, slowly but surely. Forward Tobias Rieder, who scored twice in the team’s season-opener but suffered a leg injury in the game was back on the ice Tuesday, but won’t factor into the lineup just yet.


“Tobi is skating,” Edwards said. “He won’t be a player for us this week, but then we get another week off, so Tobi could definitely be a player next week.”

Defender James Melindy, originally out for “two to three weeks” was not on the ice, and Edwards seemed less optimistic.

“He’s still probably a couple of weeks,” Edwards said.

He said it

Following practice Tuesday, Edwards started his conversation commenting on the frigid temperatures at the rink.

“Cold in here, isn’t it?” Edwards said. “Outside, too. It’s like God turned it down on us or something.”

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