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.
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.
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.
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.
Matt Donovan is currently in the second half of his first full season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. In 50 games played, the 6 foot, 202 pound defenseman has registered six goals and 25 assists for 31 points while maintaining a +11 rating.
Donovan has quickly become one of the Sound Tigers most reliable and contributing defenseman, playing with others such as Aaron Ness, Calvin de Haan and Ty Wishart. Selected 96th overall in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Donovan has been developing nicely. He had spent two seasons with the University of Denver before making his transition from college life to that of a professional hockey player. His best year with Denver came in 2011 where he scored 32 points from the blue line in 42 games.
On the depth charts, Donovan looks as if to be one of the most well polished blue liners that the Islanders organization has groomed through their farm system. If he continues his play, this could be the last time Connecticut locals will see him in a Sound Tigers jersey.
He and I talked about that possibility this afternoon over the phone.