The Portland Pirates have been playing very well as of late, as evidenced by streaks of seven wins from their last eight games as well as nine wins from their last eleven contests. Such recent form has resulted in the top farm club of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers rising all the way up to second place in the eight-team Atlantic Division of the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference. However, the big story coming out of Maine’s capital city on New Year’s Day 2016 is the news that AHL’s Pirates have changed head coaches.
Tom Rowe, the former NHL winger who skated for the Washington Capitals, Hartford Whalers and Detroit Red Wings during his playing career in the late 1970s and early 1980s, has been named the Associate General Manager of the Florida Panthers. The 59-year-old native of Lynn, Massachusetts, was in his first season behind the bench in Portland after spending the previous two campaigns as head coach of the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, who had been the Florida Panthers’ affiliate up until this term. Rowe had spent the 2012/13 season in Russia as head coach of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who finished fourth in the 14-team Western Conference that year but were then eliminated in the first round of the Kontinental Hockey League’s Gagarin Cup playoffs.
Portland’s new bench boss is former assistant coach Scott Allen, the well-traveled 49-year-old who has been Rowe’s aide with the Florida Panthers’ top farm club since the start of the 2014/15 season after tours of AHL duty with the Chicago Wolves and Peoria Rivermen in addition to a three-year stretch as an assistant coach for the NHL’s New York Islanders. This will be the third time in his career that Allen has assumed duties as an AHL head coach in mid-season after twice taking over for the San Antonio Rampage (during the 2002/03 season and once again in the middle of the 2003/04 schedule). For the time being, Allen will be assisted behind the bench by Pirates goaltending coach Pierre Groulx but the search for a brand new full-time assistant coach has already begun.
How this development affects the Portland Pirates with respect to their two home games against the visiting Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday and Sunday remains to be seen.
John McFarland (29 ga, 11 go, 15 pts, 16 pen, + 4 def), the traditionally underachieving fourth-year pro who was the 2nd round pick (# 33 overall) of the Florida Panthers at the 2010 NHL Draft, already has surpassed his previous career best of ten goals in an AHL season (which he has done twice). The 23-year-old winger has been in excellent form for the Pirates as of late, too, having scored five goals in his last seven AHL games. More to the point, McFarland has netted a goal in each of his last three games for Portland.
Kyle Rau (29 ga, 13 go, 20 pts, 4 pen, + 2 def), the diminutive yet dynamic 22-year-old rookie from the University of Minnesota who was the 3rd round pick (# 91 overall) of the Florida Panthers at the 2011 NHL Draft, leads the Portland Pirates in goal-scoring this season; Rau, who represented the medal-less United States at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championships, is also in good form and has netted four goals in his last seven AHL games.
Shane Harper (29 ga, 4 go, 22 pts, 10 pen, 0 def), the undrafted former Adirondack Phantoms forward who scored 32 goals in 75 AHL games for the Chicago Wolves last season before signing a fairly lucrative minor league free agent contract ($ 150,000) with the Florida Panthers organization this past summer, has two goals in his last three AHL games for the Portland farm team.
Rocco Grimaldi (15 ga, 5 go, 10 pts, 4 pen, – 3 def), the 2nd round pick (# 33 overall) of the Florida Panthers at the 2011 NHL Draft from the University of North Dakota who won the gold medal with the United States at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships, scored for the Pirates on New Year’s Eve, his first goal since being sent back to the AHL (again) four days before Christmas.
The Phantoms are coming off a quality win in Hershey on New Years Eve where they beat the Bears 3-1. LaBarbera with another very effective start in net.
These are the last two games of our 5-game road swing. Currently, the Hamilton Street Heroes are 2-0-0-1 over the first three games, garnering 5 of the possible 6 standings points. However, this is a quality opponent, as you can see from reading d.E.’s preview above, and dropping two straight in Maine will not help in the standings at all. It’s important to get a couple points here against an Atlantic Division foe.
I’m expecting Stolie in goal tonight, and Barbie tomorrow at 4PM. A common theme on this trip is that the team as come out with some “jump” in the first period every single time. That’s a preparation thing and a coaching thing and a leadership thing, and it’s good to see. They’re ready to play and no need for excuses as the pucks fall where they may. In a recent interview, Coach Gordon said, “At the end of the day, all you can control is your effort…”
Despite not getting the win in Binghamton, I like the effort I’m seeing from this team on this road trip. After these two games they’ll have the week off until Friday, when the Penguins will be in town. I’m hosting a small group for the game, and not a lot of tickets remain–pick some up now if you’re planning on coming downtown for the game on Friday.
See you at the arena,
Categories: Kram's Korner - From the Club Level, Phantoms Hockey