Dishing On The Farm Club: Chatting With Chris Roy
For Sabres fans who are keen to keep an eye on their AHL prospects, Chris Roy is an indispensable asset. Whether you’ve read his work on the Maine Hockey Journal, seen his posts on various message boards under the username “wildcat48”, or noticed him tweeting as @MEHockeyJournal, he’s your one-stop shop for news, views, and tidbits about the Portland Pirates.
Now that the Pirates’ regular season has ended with the club winning the Atlantic Division and drawing the Connecticut Whale in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs, Chris took some time out to answer some questions we posed to him about the team.
Hit the jump to read Chris’ responses.
(as always, questions are bolded and answers are italicized)
What was the outlook on the Pirates at the beginning of this season? Did anyone expect a division title?
No, I don’t think anybody expected a division title. In fact, looking at this team in August and seeing what other teams in the division were doing in terms of player signings. I wasn’t sure if this team would make the playoffs. That’s why they play the games. It’s been a real surprise and a pleasant surprise at that because I’ve never seen a Pirates squad with a work ethic like the one I’ve seen this year. Regier and Dineen should get a ton of credit for bringing in the players that they’ve brought in both veterans and prospects.
Who were the surprise performers this season, both good and bad?
There have been a few surprises this season. The Pirates have had to deal with a lot of recalls toward the second half of the season on top of all of the injuries. But, it really didn’t seem to matter because Dineen was able to find quality players and the team continued to click. Mark Voakes is somebody who will certainly get an opportunity in the AHL next season. In terms of Sabres prospects I think for me Nick Crawford has been impressive. He looked like a player from the OHL at the beginning of the season, but with Eric Weinrich working with him on a daily basis. It’s really paid off as the season progresses to where he’s gone from No. 5, 6 or 7 defenseman to a top-2 dman with Schiestel hurt and Gragnani with the Sabres.
As I said, there have been a few surprises, but it’s really tough for me find something wrong with the forwards on this team. Mancari was great, Adam proved why he’s going to be in the NHL sooner rather than later, Bryon really exploded offensively this season and the veterans – Stuart, Parrish and Ellis stepped up when they had too. Not to mention Derek Whitmore having a career year and David Leggio really making a name for himself this season between the pipes.
However, if I had to point out one disappointment I would have to say Tim Conboy really didn’t impress me as much as I hoped. Off the ice, he did his job as a veteran, but on the ice he made mistakes that left me scratching my head on a nightly basis. He played the role of enforcer (233 PIM’s), but I would have liked to see a few goals.
The CCCC (Cumberland County Civic Center) was a fortress this season for the home team. Were the fans as loud and supportive as the team was successful this campaign?
The fan support this season has been amazing. Attendance was up slightly from last year, which speaks volumes to the fan support because there were more weeknight games this season than last year. Even the final game of the regular season drew over 7,000, which for a Sunday is a great crowd. This marketplace has always been a strong market for the AHL. It just lacks a real facility to cement its long-term future, but that will hopefully change in the fall with the proposed bond to spend 28m on renovating the arena. Also, with the Pirates vision of creating a “Center of Excellence” for the Sabres or future NHL parent team it will provide another reason for an NHL team to want to be affiliated with the Portland Pirates because of the amenities they will provide and the commitment to developing players for the NHL.
Was the feeling there all along that Luke Adam could win the team’s third-straight Dudley Garrett Award? Are fans aware that with Zack Kassian and Brayden McNabb coming in next season that they may see a fourth-straight winner?
At the beginning of the season when Adam got off to such a strong start there was talk. Media talked to Adam about it, fans talked and it was really a situation where people were saying, “Really? This could happen and wouldn’t be amazing.” However, when Adam was recalled some of that chatter went away because you never really know how the rest of the AHL will gauge being recalled into the voting. Everybody was wishing it would happen, but they didn’t want to jinx it. It certainly is an achievement that not many NHL/AHL teams can claim credit. The last time it happened was back in the late 70’s with Nova Scotia Voyageurs and Providence Reds so almost 40 years later to have Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis and Luke Adam win the award. It’s pretty special.
I don’t think the fans are thinking about next year’s team yet… They are focused on winning this season and once that’s finished then they’ll look to see who will be here. Fans know who Zack Kassian is, but McNabb is a little off the radar. As I said, it’s still early. Once the season is over this fan base will be educated really quick on who the next young crop of players will be.
How do Pirates fans seem to feel about the affiliation with the Sabres? Do the local diehards follow the paths of the various Sabres prospects, knowing they’re the future Pirates?
Overall, I think Pirates fans are satisfied with the Sabres. Portland has always been a market that’s had to rely on far away affiliations with the exception of the Bruins being in Portland with the Maine Mariners in the mid-80’s. However, that was most likely the least successful affiliation that Portland has gone through. When the Pirates came to town they had Washington for 13 years followed by Anaheim and now Buffalo… The one thing I am seeing is a real integration of Sabres fans into Portland. It’s still a Boston crowd i.e. Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots, but I’m seeing more and more people wearing Sabres gear whether it’s a jersey, hat or shirt, cheering for highlights on the scoreboard and taking a general interest in what the Sabres are doing more so than the Bruins.
To your next part of the question… I don’t think fans pay a lot of attention to players in college or major junior until they are real close. The one exception might have been Bobby Ryan, but what I am seeing are fans watching Buffalo because they have several Pirates on the team. The fan base here will follow a player to Buffalo and watch more intently there which something is rather new because with Anaheim there was 3 hr time difference and there wasn’t a real connection. People might watch Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, but that’s it. Even when the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup it didn’t generate a lot of buzz, but I’ve heard people buying NHL CI just to watch the Sabres so they can see Gerbe, Weber, Ennis, Gragnani, Enroth and the list keeps on going. They are buying the gear, traveling to Boston to see the Sabres or even make trips to Buffalo. The Sabres are creating and building a marketplace on the east coast.
With all the coaching jobs that have opened up in the NHL, is there a nervous feeling surrounding coach Kevin Dineen’s future with the team?
No, I don’t think it’s a nervousness, but rather an expectation. We’ve known since 2006 that Dineen was a candidate for an NHL head coaching job when and if that opportunity opened up. That being said, he’s had chances, many chances to leave and turned them down to stay with the Portland Pirates because of various family reasons. Dineen is a strong family person and living in Maine has really given him an opportunity to take a moment to enjoy family life, his daughter was named a Top-10 Girls’ hockey player in the State as a sophomore, and yet be an important part of the Buffalo Sabres organization. There will be a day that he’s coaching in the NHL and when and if he moves on it will certainly be well-deserved. At the same time I think the Sabres would have an easy decision in his successor being Eric Weinrich.
Now that you’ve read what Chris had to say about the Pirates, bookmark Maine Hockey Journal and keep an eye out Thursday morning for Black & Blue & Gold’s Pirates/Whale quarterfinal series preview!