Portland Junior Pirates feature blend of newcomers, veterans for new season

SACO — They’ve come here from such hockey “hotbeds” (and we mean that in the climatic sense) as Chesapeake, Va., Charlotte, N.C., Las Vegas, Nev., and Tampa, Fla.

And yes there are some who hail from more traditional pucktowns, such as Biddeford, Portland, and New Harbor.

All of them have melded together at the MHG Ice Centre to become the Portland Jr. Pirates, 2011-12 Edition.

The PJP’s, who compete in the Tier III Junior A Atlantic Junior Hockey League, are the top Maine-based junior hockey team, now that the Lewiston Maineiacs have fled the scene.

Like all players in high level junior, the objective is to play highly competitive hockey while attracting the eye of college coaches.

Which can be hard to do if you’re one of the handful of elite talents skating in Nevada.

(He who plays in Vegas, stays in Vegas).

The Junior Pirates offer hopefuls a chance to compete and be seen, and also train at MHG’s state of the art dry-land facility.

“It’s a nice change from Virginia,” said forward Tim Searles, who is in his second season with the PJP’s. “I loved it here last year, and would have picked this place over anywhere. The facility is amazing. The coaches are awesome, and the team is already a nice, thick group.”

Heading the coaching staff is former Portland Pirate Brad Church, who previously coached in the minor leagues.

He is joined by former Pirates captain Kent Hulst and former pro and UMaine stalwart, Jeff Libby.

In two seasons together, that trio has elevated the program several notches.

The PJP’s missed the AJHL playoffs last year, barely, but have recruited heavily in non-traditional hockey areas for top players, blending them with holdovers such as Biddeford’s Trevor Fleurent, a former Travis Roy Award winner.

“The last half of last season was very encouraging,” said Church. “For the program as a whole. The players all developed and came a long way, individually. The team made huge strides throughout the season. These are all chips to go out into the recruiting field with. We’re ahead of where I thought we would be.”

The Junior Pirates launched into the new season last weekend with a win and a tie in a home-and-home set with the Boston Bulldogs.

“I think we’re going to be a solid team,” said Fleurent, who won three state championships while at Biddeford. “Veterans and solid new guys. It all mixes together pretty well. We’ve got a little bit of everything.”