The team is hoping it’s one of the only similarities they find to last season.

After finishing the year in the American Hockey League cellar, the Pirates’ offseason was one of change, both on and off the ice.

Off the ice, this season marks the first full campaign for Ron Cain as the team’s majority owner and the first for Brad Church as the team’s chief operating officer.

The team also returns to a reconstructed, renamed Cross Insurance Arena in downtown Portland. It played last season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston after a dispute with Cumberland County trustees over a lease agreement at the Portland facility.

“We really haven’t looked in the rear view mirror at all this season,” Church said. “With all the newness in the organization, it’s really just a fresh approach to everything. We’re very excited. We’re excited to get back to downtown Portland. The Lewiston people were good to us, and we appreciate the community doing their best to embrace us. Unfortunately it was never really a long-term thing. We’re back in Portland now, where I feel the team belongs, has always belonged, and there seems to be some excitement and some buzz around that. So far, so good. It’s a good feeling right now.”

On the hockey side of things, the team has a different feel, as well. Head coach Ray Edwards is now also the team’s general manager, assuming that role after the Calgary Flames of the NHL hired Brad Treliving away to fill the same role for their club. The Pirates also added former Portland skater Trent Whitfield and former University of Maine goalie Alfie Michaud to the coaching staff.


The roster itself is different, as well. Edwards infused the team with veteran players in key positions, looking to turn things around after a dismal, 24-win season.

“I think Ray did an excellent job in the free agent market,” Church said. “He really worked hard before July 1 and he was really well prepared for July 1. I think it shows today now with the guys that are under contract. The things Ray wanted to address, I think he really did a good job — goaltending, get a little older on defense, and get a bit more heavy and harder to play against up front.”

“We’re just excited to get going and move past last year,” Edwards said. “As far as we’re concerned, that’s over and we want to be better.”

To that end, Edwards said, the team got bigger and stronger.

“We wanted to be more to the identity that the Coyotes have preached,” Edwards said. “We’re a bigger team. We’re bigger through the middle ice. We want to be a team that possesses the puck more. We want to be a team that can win a territorial game. And we want to be a team that’s tough to play against — not from an intimidation side of things, but if you’re going to get the puck back from us, it’s going to be tougher to do that.”

Veterans like Alexandre Bolduc, Matt Kassian and Eric Selleck on the front line, Evan Oberg, Dylan Reese and Patrick McNeil on the blue line and Mike McKenna between the pipes dot the roster. Though none is officially guaranteed a roster position, a handful will almost assuredly stay with the club.


“The other side of it was, we just had to get better depth all over the lineup, but especially on the back end,” Edwards said. “I think those are things we looked to do. I still think we may be a guy or two away from where I personally would like to be, but that’s a work in progress. I like where we’re at right now, but there’s still room to improve.”

As the players in camp Tuesday went through their drills, Edwards said he would also be paying particular attention to a group of players that is in the middle — those who are no longer rookies, but not quite veterans.

“We only have, I think, four rookies under contract,” 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.”

Phil Lane, one of those third-year players who is also in a contract year, is determined to help the team turn things around this season.

“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.

“For a handful of guys, it’s contract season,” Lane added. “I think we have to take on a bigger role, have some responsibility with everything. I think it will be a good year — a big year for everyone to produce and play well.”

Portland’s training camp continues this week. The Pirates will face Manchester in a home-and-home Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s game will be at Cross Insurance Center at 7 p.m. The return game will be at Sullivan Arena at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., on Sunday at 3 p.m.

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