The first time the Portland Pirates came to Buffalo they sure put on a show. It wasn’t the offensive explosion fans were expecting, but a fight-filled contest with the Albany River Rats with a last-second goal was enough to send HSBC Arena crowd of 11,114 home happy despite the 4-3 shootout loss.
Portland got a two point performance in Tim Kennedy’s homecoming, and even Nathan Gerbe was the center of attention despite only playing only one period. The winger scored a goal and was ejected from the game after a scuffle in front of the benches near the end of the first period. The chippy play continued throughout the night, something Pirates coach Kevin Dineen was upset about after the game.
“I’m really proud to be a part of the American hockey league,” Dineen said after the game on February 20, “but I’m really embarrassed for the league tonight just with the way that whole game played out.” Dineen mentioned that the fans deserved better than watching one of the players they came to see leave the game so early.
Overall he was very happy with the way the Buffalo crowd responded to the Pirates, many of which were playing in Buffalo for the first time.
“It was great,” he said of the crowd, which set a Pirates home attendance record. “I think we really enjoyed that enthusiasm. It was an incredible atmosphere and it’s one of those things that when you’ve been here a while you kind of take for granted.”
Many of the players had similar thoughts when asked about the fans. Forward Tim Kennedy, who had two points in Buffalo back in February. Kennedy won’t be wearing Pirates red and black tonight, as he has been skating with the big club since the start of the 2009-10 season.
“The crowd tonight was fantastic,” he said after the loss in February. “You don’t see many 12,000 person crowds for AHL games, so that’s something special. I thought they played a huge part in us coming back.” Kennedy mentioned that many players were even a bit too revved up by the crowd, forcing them to regroup a bit and regain their composure.
Despite the good showing back in February, this year’s Pirates squad has left a lot to be desired. Just 5-10 this year, the Pirates have looked overwhelmed in most of their games, with the team searching for ways to keep the puck out of their own net. Portland has allowed an AHL-worst 55 goals in just 15 games, which has oftentimes wasted the offensive ourput of players like Mark Mancari (13 points), Tyler Ennis (11 points), and Nathan Gerbe (10 points), the Pirates’ top three scorers.
The Pirates will have the services of goaltender Jhonas Enroth, who was returned to the club today. Enroth stopped 24 of 27 shots he saw in February’s Pirates game, and made his first career NHL start in his most recent stint with the Sabres.
In the visiting locker room the mood is much more upbeat. The Rochester Americans, two years removed as Buffalo’s farm team, hold the AHL’s best record at 12-1-1, and tonight they go for a team-record 12th straight victory against a team they haven’t faced since the 2001 series. Rochester are now feeding the Florida Panthers their prospects, but Sabres fans will recognize old friend Chris Taylor, who is Rochester’s leading scorer.
Gametime is 7pm from HSBC Arena. Tickets are still available for a chance to witness a glimpse of the Sabres’ future, and maybe a bit of Amerks history.