Eye on the Pirates: 2011-12 Season Recap
By Chris Roy
PORTLAND, Maine - The Portland Pirates recently concluded their first season as the American Hockey League affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Pirates finished the regular season with a 36-31-4-5 record, and missedout on the AHL’s playoffs by just two points.
“We’re not in the playoffs and that’s hard,” Head Coach Ray Edwards said. “I understand people will be disappointed with that, and no one is more disappointed than this group. We know there are high expectations in this city and we have to get to work to fix what went wrong.”
A mid-season slump proved costly.
The Pirates led the league in goals allowed with 254 goals (3.34 goals per game) and special teams struggled as they gave up a league-leading 15 shorthanded goals.
“We gave up too many goals,” Edwards said. “(Strong defense) is an identity of (the Coyotes) organization and we weren’t good enough.”
The Pirates were a young team with eight rookies on the roster, many of them dressing on a nightly basis, so growing pains were to be expected, but by the end of the season all of them were contributing and the team finished the season by winning six of its final 10 games.
“I always envisioned our team playing this way at the end,” Edwards said. “I knew the start might be a little slow, but I thought the middle portion of the season was going to be better. I envisioned us playing our best hockey at the end of the season.”
Several players really emerged in latter stages of the season.
Werek had a slow time finding his way in the professional game, but once he was switched from center to wing, his game exploded. He finished the season with 10 goals and nine assists. Many of those points came over the last 16 games as Werek’s hard work began to pay off.
“Over the course of the season there will be highs and lows, but you can’t ever get too high or too low,” Werek said. “I really learned that this season. I played a lot of different roles that I haven’t played before. It was a good experience. I felt like I grew as a player. It’s disappointing to not make the playoffs, but it was a good learning year.”
Szwarz had a tough start to the season, missing training camp and the first month of the regular season, and like Werek, he was flipped from normal position as he was moved from wing to center.
The 21-year old finished with seven goals and 13 assists with a plus-6 rating in 58 games.
The start of the season for Nick Ross was not as he had hoped, missing 15 of the first 16 games as a healthy scratch, but by the end he was a part of the top defensive pairing with Nathan Oystrick, playing over 25 minutes a game, recording 13 points in the final 13 games of the season.
Ross finished the season with career highs in goals (five), assists (13), points (18) and led the Pirates in plus/minus with a plus-16 rating.
“Watching Ross improve after a rather tough start of the season, come into the lineup and be a top defenseman in the last 20 games was really special to see,” Edwards said. “He made some real strides this season.”
Miele is another prospect for the Coyotes who underwent a season of growing. At points in the season, Miele struggled, going nearly two months without a goal, but by late in the season he found his way, scoring six goals in the final 16 games of the regular season. Miele finished second in team scoring with 54 points and played seven games with the Coyotes.
“I learned a lot of good things, and I learned a lot of things that I can improve on throughout the year,” Miele said. “It was an inspirational year. I think I became a little smarter as a player so now my focus over the summer is to become stronger and faster.”