Another summer of uncertainty will end in one hundred days when the doors to the Webster Bank Arena open for the start of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 2012-13 season. A new season, a new head coach (yet to be announced) and a roster of players that will not be known until after the Islanders training camp has concluded in late September.
The Islanders have roster spots open at every position on the team and this years camp promises heated competition for each. While many questions remain, it is clear that the last few years of development are coming to a close.
The Islanders are just a day away from joining 29 other NHL clubs in the festivities of July 1st. To a lot of people, it is just another summer day to be enjoyed outside. For many others, it's a day meant for excitement or anguish which steals one's complete attention for TSN, Twitter and any other fast paced media outlet that will have updates on the opening of NHL Free Agency.
The Isles appear set to be parting ways with Mark Eaton, Steve Staios, Milan Jurcina and perhaps their most important free agent, PA Parenteau. The latter has served as an important member on the team's top line for the past two seasons and is coming off his biggest year, likely to command a long term contract and a significant pay raise on the open market.
The previously mentioned defenseman will not receive any grief for signing elsewhere. In fact, many Islanders fans will probably be overjoyed that they will have the opportunity to see aging veterans replaced by young, upcoming talent from within the organization.
After my freshman year of college my parents, just like everyone else’s, were on my case about getting a part-time summer job to get me out of the house. Of course I was looking around for jobs but I couldn’t find much, my sister on the other hand had been working for the Islanders in Game Ops and her boss at the time told her that he had an opening to be one of the Sparky the Dragons.
Say what you want about being a mascot, but it was so much fun and because I took that job that summer it enabled me to get the internship in Bridgeport and through these two experiences I have had to honor to meet many players, most who are great guys but some stand out more than others.
Here is my list of the top five players that were not only good hockey players but, they are guys that you want to root for.
This afternoon the New York Islanders announced that Bridgeport Sound Tigers head coach, Brent Thompson, would become the Islanders new assistant coach. Coach Thompson, like many others, began his coaching career after years of playing the game himself. Selected 34th overall by the LA Kings in the 1989 entry-level draft, Thompson (‘Tommer’, his ice name) played 121 games in the NHL with the Kings and Winnipeg Jets organizations. He also played for six different AHL teams in his 14 years as a player before beginning his career as a coach.
While Islanders fans become increasingly impatient with the teams’ rebuilding, Sound Tigers fans await the annual summer, team reconstruction.
233 goals were scored by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers last season. Not a team record and not even close to an AHL record, but enough to win the Northeast Division title. Of the 49 skaters that laced them up last year, six of them accounted for 104 (or roughly 45%) of that total. None of them will return for next year.
Winning a title obviously requires good goaltending, and the tender tandem of Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson was exceptional. Each of them earned Goaltender Of The Month recognition from the AHL during the year. One of them will not return next season.
My friends and co-workers have been very concerned about me lately. None of them have come forward to ask if I was okay, but I can sense it. It is not that I had become quiet or withdrawn because I have always been quiet, preferring to listen rather than talk, ‘eavesdropping on silence’ is what my dad called it. But they were treating me with kid gloves as if I had suffered a loss.
The hockey season had come to an end and they were worried about what I would do without hockey. Let me assure all of my good friends, that this is just the quiet before the storm, a brief break before the immensely tense fortnight that precedes every season.
Milford, CT is a typical blue-collared New England town. Like many, it has its’ green (the second largest in New England), a rich Revolutionary War history (Liberty Rock) and the strip malls, auto dealerships and struggling franchises that dot the Rte. 1 landscape from Maine to Florida. Milford is also the home of Schick, BIC, Subway, PEZ (actually nearby Orange, CT) and a guy named Jonathan Quick. It is also the winter home of most of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
In the photo (Wikipedia/Benutzer:makemake) you see an aerial view of the Milford harbor. The ubiquitous island, top center, is Charles Island, a bird sanctuary and well-known sight to most Sound Tigers players. The players often rent beach cottages along the stretch of beach facing the island during the winter months and for good reason. Many of these homes demand $1800 per week and more during the summer months, off-season these same homes are available for a small fraction of that amount. This is where they pool their resources and form what can best be described as ‘frat-houses’ where life long friendships are born. In April of 2010, after being abducted, I was given a personal tour of one.
It almost seems like it's been the same story heading into the off-season year after year now; the Isles lack a top-six forward and top-four defenseman that could help make them a competitive team that could be fighting for a playoff spot.
They've tried free agency and have been shot down by guys like Paul Martin. They tried the trade market with James Wisniewski, who ended up being a major disappointment while wearing orange and blue. They even tried that route once more, gaining the negotating rights to Christian Ehrhoff. He didn't want to sign, and I think after seeing how he played under his very luxurious contract, most Isles fans probably don't care.
Although both trades were under different circumstances, they shared one glaring similarity. Not one of them involved any actual players leaving the Island. Ehrhoff's rights were acquired for a fourth round draft pick, and Wisniewski came on board in exchange for a 2011 second round pick and conditional 2012 fifth round pick. Despite the early signs of GM Garth Snow developing a pattern, there is reason to believe that could change heading into this summer's off-season.
To paraphrase an old adage; ‘An opinion is like a proctologists playground, everyone has one … and they all stink.’
With the NHL season ending and the draft just two weeks away, anyone who follows the sport of hockey will read or hear many opinions offered on what their favorite teams’ needs are, who to draft and which free agents should be pursued. It’s just fun to spend other peoples’ money.
So once Mr. Wang is done spending his folding money on NHL players’ contracts, let me offer my opinion on what should he should do with the change left in his pocket.
An opinion is only as good as the assumptions it is built on. So here are some of the things I will assume (with ‘ass-u-me’ being another obvious rectal reference), before I offer my opinions. This summers’ Islanders training camp will be a very competitive one at all positions. There will be a battle for back-up goalie between Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin. The loser of this battle will become the Sound Tigers top tender for the 2012-13 season and prove himself a winner. (Kevin Poulin/Photo: Pope Steve XXVII)
Today Blair Riley signed his first NHL contract with the New York Islanders. One hundred days after he signed an AHL contract with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Riley one of the first call-ups made by coach Thompson’s first last season. Blair got his call (a PTO – Professional Try-Out) while playing for the Chicago Express in the ECHL on Nov. 25 when BST forward Trevor Frischmon was out injured. He had already impressed coach ‘Tommer’ with his play while with the Las Vegas Wranglers, particularly in the 2010-11 Kelly Cup playoffs with his 4 goals and an assist in five games played.
He made an immediate impression on the fans at the Webster Bank Arena when he dropped his gloves early in his first home game (and the Tigers first in their new third jerseys) at a point in the season where the team just could not buy a win. Riley did not do much in the way of putting points on the board for a while, in fact none of the Tigers did in late 2011, and the team ended the year in last place. The year ended and the teams’ fortunes changed.