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.
The New York Islanders have called up Sound Tigers defenseman Matt Donovan from the AHL. The rookie blue liner is second on the team in scoring with 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) and is fourth in the AHL for scoring by a defenseman.
I spoke with Donovan at the end of February and could tell that he was itching for his chance to make it with the Islanders, especially after seeing Sound Tigers teammates Calvin de Haan, Aaron Ness, Dylan Reese and Ty Wishart getting called up during the season. Although you cannot read a person's tone when looking at a typed up interview, I can assure my reader's that Donovan, although proud of his friends and teammates, sounded a bit envious of their call-ups to the NHL.
After all, it is every player's dream to finally play in the greatest hockey league in the world.
If the Islanders won all of their remaining games and the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres lost their remaininga games, then the Isles would have done the unthinkable and made the playoffs for the first time in years. However, miraculous combinations of wins and losses are hard to come by these days, especially when you are playing against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Bruins scored six goals this afternoon for the third time this season against the Islanders, taking the season series with a 3-1-0 record. The loss finally elimanted the Islanders from playoff contention, concluding the thoughts of even the most hopeless fan that thought somehow they would squeak in. The focus now will shift to finishing the season with a winning record for the first time since Ted Nolan was the head coach and ending up somewhere between 9th and 11th place.
Luck is a cruel mistress who will leave you in the middle of the night to lay with another. Welcomed when this lady arrives the only thing you can count on is her infidelity. It won’t be luck that wins the Bridgeport Sound Tigers the Northeast Division championship. That will only come with work, effort and commitment. Sixty minutes of work every game, 100% effort on each shift and a total commitment to the teams systems and each other.
Tuesday night, in a surprising win against the Worcester Sharks, the team regained some of its’ swagger from earlier in the year. The Tigers did not show up for the first period. Back skating after missing six games due to a shoulder injury, forward Kael Mouillierat was quoted by Mike Fornabaio in his Connecticut Post game review as saying “We just sat there watching. We let them take it to us.” And take it to them they did.
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.