The first annual ‘Suite Seat Competition’, sponsored by The Checking Line – Isles Edition was a huge success at every level. Any time you can make a six-year old happy you had a good day and Justin Juliano (whose father Joseph was our Grand Prize Winner) never stopped smiling. An hour before game time and the Webster Bank Arena concourse was already getting crowded as our groups VIP tour began. Artfully led by my personal account rep. Maddie Gillan, we navigated through the crowds to the seldom seen areas of the arena as she explained how they each come together to produce a circus, concert or other of the many events held at the arena. We were there for the game between the Connecticut Whale and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and ended our tour in suite 417, our home for the afternoon.
It's hard to predict the roster for 2013 when 2012 hasn't even finished yet, let alone the fact that Garth Snow hasn't decided which of his impending UFA's will be brought back. Free agency is still a far away fantasy as well. But for some hockey players currently wearing Islanders uniforms, the immediate future has been fresh in their minds for quite some time.
Players like Casey Cizikas, David Ullstrom, Dylan Reese and Nino Niederreiter will be looking to make some lasting impressions on the coaching staff over the next seven games that will close out the Islanders' season. The first three will more than likely be sent back to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers once the NHL regular season ends in order to assist the farm team with their playoff run.
There are just 12 hours left in the Bridgeport Sound Tigers regular season. Twelve hours where each twenty-minute period will be played with intensity. In my most recent post, I stated that I did not expect the team to return to the arena on Monday March 25th in first place, and they won’t. Did I expect them to lose each of the last five games? I did not, but it happened. Is the team out of the hunt for a divisional title? Not by a long shot.
In a late night tweet following Wednesday’s shut out loss to the Binghamton Senators, Rhett Rakhshani posted “Tough stretch for the tigers. Sometimes you learn and grow the most from the tough times. We will turn this ship around!”. While the ‘boat’ reference brings to mind Captain Ahab’s Peqoud sunk by a Connecticut Whale, the Titanic destroyed by the St. Johns Ice Caps or Captain Quint’s boat Orca devoured by a Worcester Shark in the movie ’Jaws’, I share his optimism.
The team is missing some weapons at the moment. Call-ups, injuries and a suspension will keep David Ullstrom, Casey Cizikas, Jeremy Colliton and Michael Haley from lighting the goal light for a bit longer. Led by Rakhshani and a net crashing Justin DiBenedetto (pictured/Photo by Pope Steve XXLIV) there are plenty of weapons left in the arsenal and new ones arriving almost daily.
With this edition of the prospect report I decided to update Islanders fans about some of the news that has happened recently with some Islanders prospects. Recently we have seen prospects sign amateur try out contracts with Bridgeport, one sign an entry level deal with the Islanders, and one decide that he isn’t quite done with college yet. If you are lost don’t worry I will explain it all.
I will start with the amateur try out contracts (ATO) with Bridgeport. Johan Persson, an Islander’s prospect from the 2011 NHL draft has left his junior team to play a few games in the AHL before the season is over. I have previously written about Persson in an article you can find by clicking here. He finished this season in the WHL with 58 points in 70 games. The 19 year-old has some good size so it will be interesting to see him work in the AHL over the next few games.
Jeff Tambellini has succeeded at every level of hockey.
Jeff Tambellini is the epitome of what baseball scouts would call a 4A player; too good for Triple-A but not good enough to stick in the ‘big leagues’. His junior career began in 1999, at the tender age of 15. He joined the Port Coquitlam Buckaroos of Pacific International Junior Hockey League (PIJHL). The league is stationed near Vancouver, British Columbia. He had 31 goals in his only season with the Buckaroos, netting him a multitude of honors including Rookie Of The Year.
After the 1999-00, he went on to play two seasons with the Chiliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League. This was an ‘A’ level league and brought Tambellini that much closer to his goal of becoming a professional hockey player. After an average 2000-01 season, his next campaign blew away any of his wildest dreams.
The players have not been allowed on the ice at the Webster Bank Arena since their loss to the Norfolk Admirals on Sunday, March 11. They have been allowed to remove equipment and personal belongings from the locker room but they are not permitted to use the ice, whether for practice or conditioning. Still in contention to win the divisional title and thus a third seed in the playoffs, the Sound Tigers need their ice time.
Fortunately two excellent local facilities (Bridgeport’s ‘Wonderland Of Ice’ and Shelton’s ‘Sports Center of Connecticut’) are available to satisfy the need for ice time but something else will be missing. When finally allowed to return to home ice at the arena on the 25th of March, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers logo will not be at center ice.
Many were immediately calling for the removal of head coach Jack Capuano at the start of the season once the New York Islanders' record began to slip from 3-1 to way below .500. However, there were some, like myself, who argued that it was premature to blame the coaching staff for the poor start due to the fact that the roster from last season hadn't changed much and for the other simple fact - the season was still young. (Photo Credit: Robert Kowal/Flickr)
Since then, the Islanders have managed to be a consistent below .500 team for the year. They have come close on a few occasions from jumping over the hurdle but would then find a way to take two steps back after taking one step forward. This past week has been the most disheartening of the year for Isles fans in relation to how the team has continued to perform. Not only have they lost games, but they have done it with such depression that even the U.S. economy cringed.
Three of the last eight games saw the Islanders either blow a three-goal lead or lose the game in the final few minutes of the third period. It started when the Islanders went into the second period against the Washington Capitals with a 2-0 lead on February 28th. The Caps would score two goals in the final three minutes of the game and then go on to have Alexander Ovechkin score the early game winning goal in the extra frame. The Islanders also had a 1-0 lead against the New Jersey Devils just this past Saturday, only to see their opponent score two goals just 14 seconds apart in the final two minutes of the hockey game. And most recently, the Islanders blew a 4-1 lead last night against the Caps to lose 5-4 in the shootout.
Changing Daylight Saving Time to the second weekend of March has made this my least favorite weekend of the year. Well into my training regimen for St. Patrick’s Day the last thing I need to lose is an hour of sleep. It would also prove to be a difficult weekend for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Another three games in three nights can be expected but this past weekend the opponents could not have been tougher. On Friday the Tigers visited Hartford the team with the AHL’s best home record, 16-4-2-4. Saturday the team would return home to face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins holders of the AHL’s best road record at an amazing 22-6-0-3. Shortened Sunday would find the Tigers at home against the AHL’s point leading Norfolk Admirals and winners of fourteen games in a row. Bridgeport did not post a win in those three games (first time winless in three in 2012) but they were not played in any game and picked up two valuable points in the process.
Some twenty-five years before the Bridgeport Sound Tigers became a team I, and many others enjoyed the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is one memorable scene in that movie that represents this years’ team showing their heart and determination to win.
In the film, King Arthur (Jack Capuano) is travelling through a forest when he enters a clearing and observes a fight taking place between a Black Knight (The Sound Tigers) and a Green Knight (insert team) by a bridge over a small stream. Arthur congratulates the Black Knight for his victory and offers him a place at Arthur's round table ,but the Black Knight only stands still, holding his sword, and makes no response until Arthur moves to cross the bridge. The Black Knight then refuses to stand aside. Reluctantly, Arthur fights the Black Knight and, after a short battle, the Knight's left arm (David Ullstrom) is severed.
It's still a long shot, but the Islanders have pulled themselves back into playoff conversations with a 1-0 win yesterday over the New Jersey Devils that has put them within five points of the last spot in the Eastern Conference. But even so, there are plenty of questions that surround the New York Islanders hockey club, ranging from the uncertain future of the arena to whether or not Tim Horton's will ever return to the concession stands. The most important questions, the ones that impact the immediate future, are the ones that need to be answered first; GM Garth Snow has to figure out where certain players will fit on his roster as the rebuild pushes forward.
I've already talked about the possibility of Evgeni Nabokov re-signing with the Islanders, as well as teammate P.A. Parenteau returning in an orange and blue sweater. But Snow will have to take a long look at some of his current regulars and decide where they fit with the team long term as some young, fresh faces are pushing for NHL jobs.