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.
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'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.
I have said that I believe it would be better for the Islanders to finish between 10th and 12th place in the Eastern Conference as opposed to going the 'Fail for Nail' route and trying to get a top-five lottery pick for this summer's 2012 Entry Draft. But if the season ended today, the Isles would go into the lottery with the fifth pick in the draft. Although that is the least likely position to be in when hoping to move up to number one, the Islanders are almost guaranteed to at least have a selection in this year's top 10 class.
With the playoff picture painting itself out on a permanent canvas over the next two weeks, let's put ourselves in the shoes of some NHL scouts and take a quick glance at what the Islanders will be looking at in between game 82 and draft day.
Nail Yakupov is the clear choice for first overall, having a lot of Alexander Ovechkin comparisons made about his play. After Nail comes Mikhail Grigorenko, who has often been compared to Evgeni Malkin. Both of these Russian prospects will probably be out of the Islanders grasp barring a significant change on the day of the lottery. After these two goal-scoring forwards lie plenty of top-rated defenseman.
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.
Rick Nash won't be donning an Islanders jersey tomorrow night; the Islanders didn't get a first round pick for Evgeni Nabokov and/or P.A. Parenteau; Al Montoya will still be on the bench to back up the Islanders number one goaltender; and the defensive play of Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina and Steve Staios will still be seen for the rest of the season.
Staios, despite popular reports from a fake twitter account, was not dealt to the Vancouver Canucks for a 6th round draft pick.
BUT Garth Snow did manage to rid himself of the putrid play of Brian Rolston and the defensive relapses of Mike Mottau. Both were sent packing to the Boston Bruins for a couple of prospects; Yanick Riendeau and Marc Cantin.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers have just completed their worst weekend of the year. Playing the second of two consecutive three (games) in three (nights) series, they were only able to capture 5 of the 6 points available. The one point missed occurred on Friday night in a game won by the Springfield Falcons in the 7th round of a shoot-out.
The team returned home to the Webster Bank Arena on Saturday for the 2nd game of the 3 in 3 weekend and through 15 minutes of the second period looked nothing like themselves. Poulin in goal was not having his best night. Snipers Ullstrom and Cizikas were playing in the National League and Rhett Rakhshani was still out injured. Tomas Marcinko was also unavailable serving the 2nd game of his 3 game suspension and the team was losing 0-3 with five minutes left in the second period. But there are four lines in hockey and winning teams get production from all four.