The thirty-eight inches of snow deposited in Milford by a blizzard named ‘Nemo’ forced the AHL and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to cancel a weekend of hockey at the Webster Bank Arena. Pay-loaders, bob-cats, backhoes and shovels that were used in late October to remove the sand left on East Broadway by a hurricane named ‘Sandy’ were pressed back into service for snow removal.
Schedules, plans, and lives were put on hold while streets were being cleared, and some of the sand collected in the fall was placed back on the roads so we could return to our normal daily routines. The Sound Tigers returned to their schedule on Tuesday evening when they hosted the conference leading Springfield Falcons after an unprecedented ten-day layoff. The obvious question was, ‘How would the team perform after all that down time?’
The Sound Tigers would fall behind again with 26 seconds left in the middle period when the Whale scored a power play goal with Nino Niederreiter on the bench serving the teams ‘too many men on the ice’ penalty. John Persson would tie the game in the final period scoring his fifteenth of the season on Bridgeport’s second and final power play opportunity of the night, setting the stage for Sean Backman’s late game heroics.
Backman’s game has improved noticeably over the last month or so. In the past his time was spent between the hashmarks waiting for an outlet pass and avoiding the dirty areas of the ice, but no longer.
The Sound Tigers, like every team in the AHL, started the season with an unexpected wealth of talent. Niedereitter, Ullstrom and Cizikas, whom most had expected to be in the NHL, were back in Bridgeport along with prospects Brock Nelson, Johan Sundstrom, John Persson and Kirill Kabanov. Scoring goals should not prove a problem.
In net, both Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson were still on the roster, while most had expected one to get called up to serve as Nabokov’s back up on the Isles. Poulin and Nilsson had each earned ‘AHL Goalie Of The Month’ awards during the teams Division Championship season and there was doubtfully no more promising tender tandem in the league. No problem.
With the NHL in a lockout that important part of the AHL experience was gone and it was missed. Hockey wasn’t the same. But the NHL is back and hockey is once again whole. Some five or six Sound Tigers will be called-up in the next few days to begin the abbreviated 2012 -2013 season, others will be called as needed over the next few months.
My friends are now asking me “How are the Sound Tigers going to be after they lose all those players to the Islanders?” My honest response is “They are a better team now than the club that started the season.”
A streak is not a streak until it reaches two games and the Sound Tigers have just suffered their first losing streak of the season, this one a three gamer. Last seasons’ Division Championship winner endured two such three gamers, a four, a five and a six game swoon before they captured the title.
Though still ahead of last year’s pace (20 pts. after 17 games vs. 18 in 2011) this recent streak has caught the attention of the otherwise idle Isles organization brass.
When the Bridgeport Sound Tigers left home for this seasons first three-in-three, 3 games in 3 nights, last Friday the weather forecast was front-page news. Hurricane Sandy was heading for the New York City metro area and was promising to be the most recent ‘Storm Of The Century’.
Alternately called ‘The Perfect Storm’ or ‘Frankenmonster’ by the media, it was obvious that Sandy would wreak havoc along the Milford beaches where many of the Sound Tigers take residence during the hockey season.
Rather than change hotels each night for a Worcester-Springfield-Worcester series, the team checked into a hotel in Springfield for three nights, opting to bus the 50 miles between venues. Three nights became five nights of concern for the players, few of which have ever seen a hurricane.
Before the first puck was dropped this year there were a few questions about the Bridgeport Sound Tigers chances of repeating as division champions. The biggest question being, who is going to do the scoring?
Of the top thirteen scoring forwards from last season only David Ullstrom and Casey Cizikas returned. Free agents Brandon DeFazio and Colin McDonald, acquired from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penquins, and Matt Watkins from the Portland Pirates will provide a solid veteran presence that can be counted on to put up some big numbers, but what about the kids?
The boys are back in town and sales will soon increase at Chipotles, Mr. Macs Canteen and dozens of restaurants in the area as the players prepare for the upcoming season.
It will not be long before locals can expect a Swedish flag flying outside a home rented by John Persson, Johan Sundstrom, David Ullstrom and Anders Nillson while larea chefs cringe as Ullstrom adds ketchup to the marinara sauce they spent hours preparing.
There is less than 12 hours until the third lockout begins under Commissioner Gary Bettman's watch. The last occurred back in 2004, canceling the 2004-2005 season and resulted in a new salary cap system. However, that system has been failing the smaller market teams, forcing them to keep up with the other clubs who earn more revenue and can afford higher salaries.
The owners and the NHLPA are fine with a salary cap system; they are not trying to reinvent the wheel all over again. But both sides are trying to structure an agreement on how the revenue is shared between the owners and players.
In recent discussions, several different proposals have been thrown on the table but none have come close to settling the disagreement. Bettman has been prepared to lockout his players if a new deal is not reached by the end of today. Although each side is likely to meet with each other before the day is over, it seems very unlikely that an 11th hour deal will be made.
Despite talks of another NHL season getting wiped out entirely, many players from the New York Islanders have returned to the Island to prepare for training camp. This week, Eric Boulton, Matt Carkner, Michael Grabner, Kirill Kabanov, Andrew MacDonald, Brock Nelson, Nino Niederreiter, Frans Nielsen, Marty Reasoner and Johan Sundstrom took part in some informal skates at Islanders Ice Works in Syosset. (Photo Credit: Islanders Hockey Blog/Flickr).
These players have not only been skating, but they have been active off the ice as well. Just yesterday Michael Grabner signed 150 autographs for the first group of fans to attend the grand opening of the Cantiague Park Pro Shop.
The past few weeks have been important for guys like Boulton and Carkner, who are just meeting some of their Islanders teammates for the first time after signing contracts with the organization on the first day of Free Agency.