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.
Before I begin talking Islanders hockey, I owe my readers, as well as the other bloggers that write for this site, an apology. For those of you who don't know, the bloggers here at TCL Isles follow a schedule that I create. I also arrange my blogs to follow in that schedule as well, and I continue to remind our staff to do their best to keep up with it while trying to allow some freedome since it's the summer.
I have been out of sync with managing the site for about the past two weeks. Without getting into things, I can promise that I am now fully back on track and apologize for my absence.Fortunately, there hasn't been an over abundance of stories to report.
Sadly, John Tavares lost to Pekka Rinne in the EA Sports voting bracket for the cover of NHL 2013. He made it all the way to the semi-finals but fell short to the Predators net-minder. Maybe next year will be a different story. But Islanders fans certainly made a point to the rest of the league by showing that their voice can be loud when they have a reason to be heard.
There are 126 derivatives of the word run. You might have a run in your hose, a runny nose or an unfortunate case of the runs. You could also enjoy a four-year run as Stanley Cup Champions, run your banner up the flagpole and then run and hide for the next several years.
Hits are similar. You may score the game winning hit, lead the NHL in hits for a season, hit it off with a member of the opposite sex (or whatever is politically acceptable this year) or relax and enjoy a hit on the controlled substance of your choice after a run of good luck.
Errors, however, enjoy fewer distinctions. Whether in performance (Bill Buckner) or judgment (the O. J. Simpson verdict), an error is an error and some have long memories. In a few short weeks hockey fans will watch the smartest, most informed hockey minds on this planet make their teams’ first round selection( in the 2012 NHL Entry Level Draft, and errors will be made. Fans, pundits and ‘experts’ with less than 2% of the background info available to those making the selections, will ingest, second-guess and spew out their opinions on who should have been selected, and more errors will be made. As a hockey fan, I will follow the first round with interest. It is the later rounds that prove most interesting because this is where the errors of omission occur and form the talent pool that forms the rosters of the teams in the AHL.
You will find a ‘Booster Club’ in every sport, at every level, and the members of these clubs are always shaking their cans and asking for money. Donate this, donate that, buy one of these and contribute to our ‘fifty-fifty raffles’ are what you hear. What few of us see or realize is all of the good work done by these groups of volunteers.
It is almost with embarrassment that I admit, that after several years as a season ticket holder for the Sound Tigers, only this past season did I join the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Booster Club (BSTBC). I watched as sweaters and coats donated and the cans of food collected were delivered to some less fortunate people that have no interest in hockey or the Sound Tigers. I saw the smiles in the eyes of physically challenged children playing with physically gifted hockey players while BSTBC members hosted one of their many charitable events. My promise to the BSTBC is that I will take a more active roll this coming season in what ever I can do.
My first hockey hero was the ‘Rocket’. Young and driven by numbers, it was always the most goals, most home runs, or the most of just about anything that would gain my interest. That all changed in the mid to late sixties, when a defenseman from Parry Sound, Ontario changed the game of hockey. While Doug Harvey of the Montreal Canadians was responsible for adding the phrase ‘offensive defenseman’ to the hockey lexicon, it would be ten years later that a young Bobby Orr not only defined the phrase and gave it flesh, he also changed the way I watched the game. I became a fan of the men working the blue line.
A lot has been written recently about shot blocking in the NHL. This is nothing new to the game, as Rob McGowan points out in his latest offering, ‘The Value of Andrew MacDonald’, but I still have trouble understanding what would posses a person to do it. How can the brain that tells a body when to inhale and exhale to support life tell that same body to position itself in front of a shot and endanger it? Then I remember when I was fifteen years old, positioning myself in in the line of fire of skeet shooters to make a day of fishing more fun.
Santa brought me my first 'Magic 8-Ball' sometime in the early-mid 50's. It was a wondrous little device that could foresee the future. The best part about it, was that if you were unhappy with the answer given, you could keep asking until you got the answer you wanted. It did have some short comings, however. It lied to me when it answered 'Most Definitely!' after I asked if I was going to meet my favorite Mousekateer, Annette.(flickr/Bark).
It also failed to help me with my homework and did nothing to warn me that my team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, would be moving to the west coast to join Annette in California. Even with these short comings, it was fun and can still be found in stores today. It is now the time of year that it will become most useful. What better source is there to help me predict what the 2012-13 Islanders and Sound Tigers rosters will look like on opening day.
The final three games played at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport were shutouts. The Sound Tigers were losers in two of those games and didn’t win the third. A scheduling conflict at the XL Center in Hartford, forced the Whale to play host to the visiting Norfolk Admirals in Bridgeport, on neutral ice, in an unfriendly environment. The only player that might have felt at ‘home’ Wednesday night was Admirals’ forward Trevor Smith, who had played over 100 games here as a popular member of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Admirals won the contest with a 4-0 shutout besting the Whale and their goalie Cam ‘Tiger Killer’ Talbot, the Whale tender that got hot, and abruptly ended the season for the Sound Tigers.
A neutral site far from Norfolk, lousy weather and a Rangers vs. Capitals playoff game on TV resulted in a very small crowd. Just over 1,100 of the heartiest of fans turned out and were joined in the cheap seats by Gordie Howe, Ray Bourque and Mark Messier. The game meant nothing to the Bridgeport team, whose season had ended, but celebrations were being held by Sound Tigers from Oklahoma to Ontario, and though not nearly a Guinness record, sixty-six candles were blown out.
I can pretty much talk about hockey 365 days a year, and do. When a friend asks me a question about the AHL or the Sound Tigers, they will get an answer. It took me a while to realize that because they asked me something about the game I love, did not mean they shared my enthusiasm. I first noticed it in the spring when a friend for years asked me to explain what a ‘developmental team’ was. Listening to my response as I explained the roll the AHL was intended to play in the development of players for the NHL, his eyes began to glaze over when I approached the V-260, V-320 (veteran of 260 or 320 professional games) grey areas. An “urgent call” took him from me, and the next day I was ‘un-friended’ on Facebook. That is when I decided it would best to write about the game. While it is still boring to many, at least the number of ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes I get from Facebook friends won’t diminish.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is “How much do the players get paid in the AHL?” Were I a man of few words, the answer for this 2011-12 season would be a short “The league minimum is $39,000 the highest paid is getting $6,500,000.” This is true though misleading, and as I am not a man of few words and don’t want to mislead you, let me bore you from bottom to top.
I learned to love the game of hockey early in life. The first magazine I subscribed to was the ‘Hockey’ magazine, which became mine after my dad had read it. On the cover of the first edition was Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard, my first sports hero. Life was easier then. When you went to the store for cereal you had eleven to choose from; three were the hot cereals ‘Wheatena’, ‘Farina’ and ‘Rolled Oats’, none were instant. Cold varieties roared like tigers, were ‘shot from guns’ or would ‘snap, crackle and pop’ for your listening pleasure. Sugar Pops had yet to be given their more nutritionally acceptable name of ‘Corn Pops’ and nobody apologized for it.
At the end of the season in 2006 or 07, Jeremy Colliton cleaned out his locker and headed home. He had a long drive ahead going from Bridgeport, CT to Blackie, AB. Twitter was not created until March of ’06 and didn’t launch until that July but Facebook was available and Jeremy used it to chronicle his long drive home. His periodic status updates about which George Strait song he was listening to, or how he could not wait for the taste of Canadian beef, eased the pain that I and other hockey fans experience when the season ends. Today it’s Twitter that provides that catharsis.
Several of this years’ Sound Tigers club use twitter and most posted something about their journey. It was obvious from reading each of them that, though sad to leave, they were happy to be home. Kevin Poulin said he was glad to have some ‘home cooking’ and wished teammates Rhett Rakhshani (driving solo to California) and David Ullstrom (flying home to Sweden) well. Ullstrom was in touch with both Casey Cizikas and Trevor Frischmon about having them come to visit him over the summer. John Persson (remember this kids’ name) also from Sweden did not return home. He instead returned to his Canadian billet family in Red Deer, Alberta where he has the most adorable five(?) year-old blonde alarm clock.