Embarrassed. That is the only word I can think of that describes how I feel about Thursday nights’ Sound Tigers loss to the Whale. It has little to do with the way the team played or the outcome of the game. It has nothing to do with the embarrassment I felt for the singer of our National Anthem who forgot the words. It has everything to do with the small crowd in attendence. I can only recall one time I felt that totally embarrassed.
After years of living in the same house, I had just moved into a one-bedroom condo on the first floor of a well-lit building in Bridgeport. Prior to that, my normal routine for nocturnal emissions was, rise from bed, take a left, another left, quick right and close the door behind me. In my new environs this familiar routine left me buck-naked in the hallway where looking to my right I could see the entrance to St. Ambrose Church. I was able to escape my embarrassment; the Sound Tigers were not as fortunate.
With the possible exception of World Cup Soccer, there is no contest in sports more intense than playoff hockey at any level. Tonight at 7pm The Webster Bank Arena will play host to the AHL’s opening round of the Calder Cup Championships. This years contest starts with an historic battle between the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, proud affiliate of the New York Islanders, and Hartford’s Whale, the New York Rangers sister club.
While the two teams have met some 130 times in the last 11 years, they have never faced each other in the playoffs. While Bridgeport holds a slight advantage in this years’ regular season 10 game competition, the only advantage that earns them is home ice. This is only an advantage if the fans come out and make it one. The fans that do show up can expect to see professional hockey at its best. Here is how I see it:
Time to put up or shut up. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers team has given all for the fans this season. They had their faces battered, spilled their blood, suffered through concussions and other physical abuse to win the division title and the banner that comes with it. They also earned home-ice advantage against the in-state rival Whale-pack. That seemingly small advantage could be what decides who takes the next step forward, but it is only an advantage if the fans show up and support the team.
I live on a boat on the Housatonic River in CT. The river is the Mason-Dixon line, Berlin Wall and Forty-second parallel of the sporting world. East of the river you are apt to be a Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins fan. If you are from the western side of the river you probably root for the Yankees, Giants and Rangers. Mets, Jets and Islanders fans sprinkle the landscape on both sides of the river suffering their collective pain and abuse and nobody cares about the NBA.
On Friday the 13th, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers defeated the Providence Bruins 4 to 1 clinching the teams first Division Championship in ten years. Steve Oleksy posted a tweet minutes later that captures it all.
“Teammates come and go but banners last forever. @TheSoundTigers clinched the division tonight. It’s only a step!! #longwaytogo “.
Of the many perks offered to season ticket holders, my favorite is the end-of-season, Port Jeff Ferry cruise with the players. It also seems to be an event equally enjoyed by the players as well, and what’s not to enjoy? Free food and drink provided by the Sound Tigers organization and their sponsors and 3 hours of relaxed mingling of players and fans, priceless. This years’ cruise took place Monday evening and was once again a huge success. I was fortunate to spend a good bit of time talking to goalie Anders Nilsson, still on the mend from an ankle injury he sustained in the March 18 game against the Worcester Sharks.
After allowing seven goals in an onslaught of a hockey game, the final buzzer at the Nationwide Arena would not only sound the ending of a massacre, but also signify the end of what was a disappointing season for the New York Islanders.
It was a disappointing year for many reasons. With the rebuild entering its fourth season, many expected this team's fortunes to change. For plenty, that meant making the playoffs instead of falling into the draft lottery. For yours truly, that meant climbing out of the cellar but not high enough to reach 8th place. I am sad to say that we were both wrong. The Islanders finished the year out of the playoffs and 27th overall in the league, giving them the fourth overall pick going into Tuesday night's draft lottery for the second year in a row.
On paper you can call the 2012 season just the same as any other. At 14th place in the Eastern Conference, the Isles finished the season with a 34-37-11 record with 79 points. That's only a six point improvement over last season and the SAME exact record as the year before that in 2010. It would almost appear that the rebuild has established a trend of not going up or down, but rather staying put.
Watching the Masters today, we all saw 5-foot putts missed that we could have made. Bubba Watson’s 10-inch winner, a ‘gimme’ on most public links, earned him his first major and the coveted ‘Green Jacket.’ I started to think of other sports where in my prime (forty plus years ago) I could have been a difference maker or game winner.
I have little doubt that I could kick the extra point to win a Super Bowl. I would imagine you feel the same. I am also certain that I could sink the game winning free-throw in an NCAA or NBA Championship game. We see evidence of this every year when somebody wins a scholarship or cash for tossing one in from half-court. Could I score the winning run in the 7th game of baseballs World Series? Most definitely. As the designated runner coming in to score from third base after a sacrifice fly, I could probably do that today. Could I score the ‘gamer’ in the Stanley Cup Finals?
Not on your life. Scoring a goal in hockey is the most difficult accomplishment in sports.
This edition of the prospect report I will look to update you on all the news and notes surrounding Islanders prospects. Some prospects decided it is time to go pro while others continue their march through the playoffs with their current teams.
To start, the news came down earlier this week that Islanders prospect Brock Nelson decided to leave college and start his NHL career by signing a 3 year entry level contract. Nelson is considered to be one of the Islanders best prospects and it is exciting seeing him ready to take the next step in his development. Nelson also signed an Amateur Tryout contract with Bridgeport that will allow him to join them this weekend to finish out the season and get a taste of some playoff hockey. Nelson will see his first action tonight as the Sound Tigers take on Syracuse. He will wear number 29.
The rebuild is only four years old, and although I use the word, "only," I understand how long that it has actually been for the loyal fans who continue to come out and support this team, waiting for them to finally return to glory. But the fact of the matter is that these things take time - a lot of time.
The St. Louis Blues are a prime example. They have only made the playoffs once since the lock out and are now finally poised to make a serious run for the Stanley Cup for the first time since Chris Pronger was on the team. President John Davidson has been building them through the draft while signing veteran free agents, much like what the Islanders have done. And the free agents they have signed haven't exactly been guys in their prime, such as Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. They also had trouble scoring goals for a long time as well. But finally, things are starting to fall into place and they are on the brink of becoming a power house hockey team in the Western Conference.
The Isles, much like the Blues, are still building toward that stature. But one thing is for certain; the Islanders farm team next season is going to play a major role in the rebuild.
It is an exciting and anxious time of the hockey season when talk turns to division championships, playoff scenarios and magic numbers. This afternoon, in a matinee game against the Springfield Falcons, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers clinched a spot in the playoffs. Nice accomplishment for a very good team and well deserved but only the first step.
In mid-January each year I have to select which weeks I would like to take for my vacations. Ever the optimist, I chose the week following the end of the AHL’s regular season this year. The team was just too damned good not to make the post season and I did not want to miss a game. Today the team got the ‘W’. The asterisk next to their name indicating the division leader will be replaced with an ‘X’ – made the playoffs. Next step is to replace that coveted ‘X’ with a ‘Y’ – Division Champion and the team has five hours of hockey remaining to earn it.