May 11, 2011

AHL Journal: Pirates' exit closes book on year

by Dan Hickling

Dennis McCauley's playoff beard can be trimmed. (photo: Dan Hickling)

They had hoped to be breaking out some other sort of implement.

Maybe even brooms.

Turns out it was razors, instead.

Which meant that the playoff beards could come off, 10 wins short of the Portland Pirates' “16W” goal. And with them went the ice in the Cumberland County Civic Center.

No need for that anymore. Not until next October.

The Pirates were the last of the AHL's New England teams standing, but the Buccos fell well short of their Calder Cup aims when they were bounced from the Eastern Conference semifinal rounds by the Binghamton Senators in six games.

After having won the Atlantic Division crown, and finished second in the AHL in points, the Pirates clearly expected a better fate than to be toppled by the team seeded fifth in the East Division.

“We're obviously disappointed,” said center Luke Adam, the AHL's Rookie of the Year. “I think everyone in the room felt we had a great opportunity, this year, to do something special. When it ends, you get caught off guard.”

The potholes in Portland's playoff path opened up before the Pirates eyes.

Holding home ice advantage in the best of seven set with the B-Sens, the Pirates promptly dropped the first two games to the Pens, and then narrowly avoided falling into a 3-0 hole thanks to a goal from a most unlikely source, Tim Conboy.

But the Buccos ran out of road completely when Binghamton nailed down the series with a 3-0 win in Portland.

“It was fun while it lasted,” said Pirates rookie defenseman Alex Biega (Harvard). “It didn't take long for them to finish it.”

The only constant that can be relied upon in the AHL is change. Players will move along, to be replaced by others.

There will likely be changes behind some Atlantic Division benches, too, with one already known to be coming in Providence.

Another vacancy may open up in Portland, where Kevin Dineen has earned icon status during his stellar six-year stay. This may be the year that Dineen moves up to an NHL head coaching gig and, with five spots currently open, it's a certainty that he'll be on at least a few short lists.

Not such a slam dunk, however, is whether he will jump at the first opportunity.

For one, the Dineen family has carved out a good life for itself in the Pine Tree State. For another, Dineen was the subject last summer of a protracted dalliance with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who ultimately opted to hire someone else (Scott Arniel).

That experience left a less than savory taste in his mouth.

“I got involved in those discussions last year,” said Dineen, who has one more year on his contract with the parent Buffalo Sabres. “And what happens is you end up in self promotion. I've never been a big believer in (that). I believe your body of work and your players speak for themselves.

“For me, I got wrapped up last year in an uncomfortable, long process in Ohio that was very uncomfortable for my family. I don't have any interest in doing that again.”

Around the AHL

The transatlantic exodus of player seeking fame and fortune in Europe for next season has already begun. Among the first to fly eastward was Joe Pereira (West Haven, Conn.), the former Boston University captain who had cameos with the Worcester Sharks and Bridgeport Sound Tigers after wrapping up his Terrier career. Reports out of Sweden indicate the Pereira has signed with Tyngsrid of the Allensvenska league. Also heading to Europe is Pereira's former Sound Tigers teammate, Eric Castonguay, who signed with Briancon in France.

Dan Hickling can be reached at