Much could have been said about the state of the Islanders' defense during the 2011-2012 NHL season, but Islanders fans could see a team that has some other defensive dilemmas in the coming seasons. (Bridgetds/Flickr)
Most Isles fans might know that the New York Islanders have a farm system that is stocked with some very interesting talent. Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas, and Calvin de Haan are some of the names that might come to mind when mentioning the rebuild on Long Island, but the Isles also have a number of defensive prospects that will be of interest once the 2012-2013 regular season gets closer. Since Garth Snow committed himself and the New York Islanders to a rebuild, the General Manager has selected some promising defensemen that have raised some eyebrows over the last couple of seasons.
While recent defensive draftees such as Scott Mayfield, Andrey Pedan, and Robbie Russo may need a little bit more time to develop, there are more than a few defensive prospects that the Islanders will be keeping their eyes on. Defensemen might take a longer amount of time to develop, but the growth of players such as Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald are just a couple of examples that are proving why patience can pay off when it comes to rebuilding a franchise. MacDonald and Hamonic performed very admirably during the 2011-2012 season for the Islanders and the team has high hopes for some of its prospects that have been maturing within their system.
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.
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.
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.
This was a season like no other. From its quick start to its abrupt ending it was unique. In season’s past, after mini-camp, the team would form early in September and begin getting ready for the upcoming year. Practice, photo-shoots, training, find lodging, practice, training, media day, practice, training, meet and greet, practice, training. After two weeks, a pre-season game or two and the season is at the doorstep. Not this year.
The team stayed on Long Island until the last minute, perhaps to give the new coaching staff the training and practice that they needed with the Islanders systems. Whatever the reason, the normal two plus weeks was compressed to a few days. The routine remained the same, but with little time on hand the players were getting up at six in the morning to look for housing before heading to practice, training, etc. Condos and houses rented, friendships that will last for years were made and the season began. And a great season it would be, a banner season by all standards.
After allowing seven goals in an onslaught of a hockey game, the final buzzer at the Nationwide Arena would not only sound the ending of a massacre, but also signify the end of what was a disappointing season for the New York Islanders.
It was a disappointing year for many reasons. With the rebuild entering its fourth season, many expected this team's fortunes to change. For plenty, that meant making the playoffs instead of falling into the draft lottery. For yours truly, that meant climbing out of the cellar but not high enough to reach 8th place. I am sad to say that we were both wrong. The Islanders finished the year out of the playoffs and 27th overall in the league, giving them the fourth overall pick going into Tuesday night's draft lottery for the second year in a row.
On paper you can call the 2012 season just the same as any other. At 14th place in the Eastern Conference, the Isles finished the season with a 34-37-11 record with 79 points. That's only a six point improvement over last season and the SAME exact record as the year before that in 2010. It would almost appear that the rebuild has established a trend of not going up or down, but rather staying put.
Watching the Masters today, we all saw 5-foot putts missed that we could have made. Bubba Watson’s 10-inch winner, a ‘gimme’ on most public links, earned him his first major and the coveted ‘Green Jacket.’ I started to think of other sports where in my prime (forty plus years ago) I could have been a difference maker or game winner.
I have little doubt that I could kick the extra point to win a Super Bowl. I would imagine you feel the same. I am also certain that I could sink the game winning free-throw in an NCAA or NBA Championship game. We see evidence of this every year when somebody wins a scholarship or cash for tossing one in from half-court. Could I score the winning run in the 7th game of baseballs World Series? Most definitely. As the designated runner coming in to score from third base after a sacrifice fly, I could probably do that today. Could I score the ‘gamer’ in the Stanley Cup Finals?
Not on your life. Scoring a goal in hockey is the most difficult accomplishment in sports.
The Islanders make their last visit to New Jersey this season on Tuesday night. As the season winds down and the playoffs officially out of reach the Islanders will look for positives for next season out of every game. The Islanders will also look to rebound back from the last minute lost to the Devils the last time these two teams meet.
One thing to watch for in this game is the NHL debut of Matt Donovan. The defenseman has had a very good season for the Sound Tigers were he scored 42 points (10 goals and 32 assists) in 69 games this season. This could be sort of a try out for the young guy as the team looks towards next season. He will be paired with Dylan Reese tonight as Staios and Jurcina are scratched.
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.
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.