WORCESTER, Mass. — Brett Hextall wore a green Army helmet in the Portland Pirates locker room Sunday afternoon. It was an appropriate symbol after the Pirates plowed past the Worcester Sharks for a 3-1 win despite having nine scratches due to NHL training camps starting Sunday.
The faces have changed but the Pirates’ traditions and winning ways go on.
Hextall wore the hard hat because it is the players’ award, symbolizing blue-collar play. The helmet came from the previous game’s helmet winner, and Hextall will choose the next recipient. Portland (23-12-1-1) lost four of its top five scorers to Phoenix Coyotes’ camp, but it didn’t matter.
“It gives other guys the opportunity to step up,” Hextall said. “The nice thing is we played a really good team game. We lost a lot of guys but that just means others get a chance to show their leadership.”
It was Hextall’s goal-scoring ability that gave Portland a first-period 1-0 lead. A pass from Russ Sinkewich caromed off a Worcester (19-15-1-2) skate, leaving Hextall an open lane to fire a slapshot past Sharks goaltender Harri Sateri with 2:36 left to play in the first period.
That’s probably not how Portland coach Ray Edwards would prefer the offense to look, but he wasn’t nitpicking his team’s fourth-straight victory. Portland now leads Worcester by seven points in the Atlantic Division and trails Syracuse by five points in the Eastern Conference race. Edwards acknowledged that all the lineup changes had an effect on the offense for both teams.
“That game was a scrambling game,” Edwards said. “When you lose that many players, you’re not in sync yet and there were some mistakes. It makes it harder.”
In lieu of a fine-tuned offense, Portland relied on a high volume of shots. The Pirates pelted Sateri with 41 shots on goal while Worcester managed just 11 shots through two periods and 27 for the game. Still, Portland needed a goal from Chris Conner with 4:41 remaining in the second period to go ahead 2-1. Worcester had a number of opportunities to tie the game in the third period before Jordan Schwarz dumped in an empty-netter with 29 seconds remaining for the final margin.
Part of the lack of offense was surely a choppy second period in which both teams racked up penalties, eventually leading to 3-on-3 skating as Worcester had four players in the penalty box while Portland had three.
Joel Rechlicz, who now has 109 penalty minutes in 22 games, was given a five-minute major penalty for fighting with seven minutes remaining in the second period. He spent his time in the box yelling at Jimmy Bonneau, his combatant in the fight, then got tossed from the game with a 10-minute unsportsmanlike penalty for continuing to talk when he got back to the Portland bench.
Portland goalie Chad Johnson said it was tough to remain focused through the penalties and utter lack of shots he faced in the first couple periods. But he fought through it, which is simply what the Pirates do with adversity.
“With us, the way we play, it doesn’t really matter how talented you are,” Johnson said. “It takes a lot of hard work. Obviously, there are some skill guys who can make things happen out there. … When it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter how good you are. You have to have effort.”