When Garth Snow took over as general manager of the New York Islanders, he eventually set out on a mission to turn a lowly franchise into a contending hockey team by building through the NHL draft and developing talent from within (Photo Credit: Official New York Islanders/Flickr).
He took over in 2006, but did not start his rebuilding campaign until 2007-2008. Players such as Jeff Tambellini, Sean Bergenheim and Frans Nielsen began to slowly earn full-time roster spots with the organization.
The following year saw some other fresh faces like Jack Hillen, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau in orange and blue gear for the majority of the season. Since then, John Tavares has taken over this team while management weeded out a few bad apples and traded away some young talent that was not prospering on the island.
Two minutes and fifteen seconds into overtime on Sunday, Hartford’s Brandon Segal took control of the puck on a two-on-one breakaway with defenseman Logan Pyett. Under heavy pressure from Sound Tigers forward Jack Combs, Segal found Pyett on his left streaking toward the goal. Pyett quick-wristed Segal’s pass to the back of the net with purpose.
The force of the puck hitting the twine trampolined BST goalie Kenny Reiter’s Gatorade bottle into the air and while waiting for the red light to start flashing and referee Ned Leduc to point his accusing finger, Reiter could only turn and watch with distain as the offending puck made its’ exit. Game over, weekend over and only one win to show for it. But we all remember how the weekend began.
All you are apt to read about Rick DiPietro’s start for the Sound Tigers on Friday night is that he gave up five goals in his twenty minutes in the net. All that most of you have read about him coming into the game has been ‘page-six’ journalism at its worst.
At the center of much of the miss-information that garnered attention, were ‘tweets’ that Kevin Maher (News 12 Long Island’s Sports Director) posted inferring DiPietro was so depressed about his being placed on waivers he had considered suicide. Toss in a few misrepresentations gathered during an interview that the oft out-spoken DiPietro was kind enough give and him and Maher earned a re-tweet or two and perhaps a headline.
What began as a normal weekend for Bridgeport’s Nino Niederreiter, turned into one of the strangest in recent memory for the team. Niederreiter made is usual call to Pete’s Deli & News for a ‘to-go’ order on his way to the arena for the Sound Tigers morning skate before the team left for Providence for the first of three games in three days.
The game in Providence started like any other before getting out of hand with the Bruins scoring the opener after two minutes of play and Matt Donovan answering four minutes later with his eighth of the season. With two minutes and thirty seconds left in the opening period, Matt Watkins was given the whistle on a very questionable hooking call, and the game changed.
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 old saying goes as follows: "defense wins championships." The New York Islanders have learned in recent years that they have not had enough defense. No Islanders team has averaged less than three goals against per game since the 2007-2008 season, and if that team had allowed three more goals, it would have been exactly three goals against per game.
Perhaps over-looked because of his size, 5’10” and 170 pounds, the Isles 2nd round pick in the 2008 draft continues to impress as he has since high school when he was named Minnesota’s ‘Mr. Hockey’. Ness along with Jon Persson and Blair Riley are the only players who have played in each of the teams first 42 games (although a stick to the face cost him a couple of teeth and forced him to wear the ‘bubble mask’ recently).
Selected in the sixth round of the same 2008 draft, again by the Islanders, was another smallish defender (5’8’,175 lbs.) Jared Spurgeon who has already established himself as an NHL’er with the Minnesota Wild. It’s more often than not a matter of being in the right place at the right time that gets your career a jump-start but it is the consistent effort given every shift that gets rewarded.
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.
Prior to the NHL lockout, the New York Islanders announced that the team will be moving to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn once the lease with Nassau County expires in 2015. Although this was good news for the local fans, this situation also provided a lot of work for team owner Charles Wang and General Manager Garth Snow (Photo Credit: Official New York Islanders/Flickr).
The Islanders need to be a team ready to compete by the time they enter their new home. A new arena means a new identity, and it cannot be the one that this team has maintained for the last few years.
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.”