While Islanders fans become increasingly impatient with the teams’ rebuilding, Sound Tigers fans await the annual summer, team reconstruction.
233 goals were scored by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers last season. Not a team record and not even close to an AHL record, but enough to win the Northeast Division title. Of the 49 skaters that laced them up last year, six of them accounted for 104 (or roughly 45%) of that total. None of them will return for next year.
Winning a title obviously requires good goaltending, and the tender tandem of Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson was exceptional. Each of them earned Goaltender Of The Month recognition from the AHL during the year. One of them will not return next season.
Milford, CT is a typical blue-collared New England town. Like many, it has its’ green (the second largest in New England), a rich Revolutionary War history (Liberty Rock) and the strip malls, auto dealerships and struggling franchises that dot the Rte. 1 landscape from Maine to Florida. Milford is also the home of Schick, BIC, Subway, PEZ (actually nearby Orange, CT) and a guy named Jonathan Quick. It is also the winter home of most of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
In the photo (Wikipedia/Benutzer:makemake) you see an aerial view of the Milford harbor. The ubiquitous island, top center, is Charles Island, a bird sanctuary and well-known sight to most Sound Tigers players. The players often rent beach cottages along the stretch of beach facing the island during the winter months and for good reason. Many of these homes demand $1800 per week and more during the summer months, off-season these same homes are available for a small fraction of that amount. This is where they pool their resources and form what can best be described as ‘frat-houses’ where life long friendships are born. In April of 2010, after being abducted, I was given a personal tour of one.
There are 126 derivatives of the word run. You might have a run in your hose, a runny nose or an unfortunate case of the runs. You could also enjoy a four-year run as Stanley Cup Champions, run your banner up the flagpole and then run and hide for the next several years.
Hits are similar. You may score the game winning hit, lead the NHL in hits for a season, hit it off with a member of the opposite sex (or whatever is politically acceptable this year) or relax and enjoy a hit on the controlled substance of your choice after a run of good luck.
Errors, however, enjoy fewer distinctions. Whether in performance (Bill Buckner) or judgment (the O. J. Simpson verdict), an error is an error and some have long memories. In a few short weeks hockey fans will watch the smartest, most informed hockey minds on this planet make their teams’ first round selection( in the 2012 NHL Entry Level Draft, and errors will be made. Fans, pundits and ‘experts’ with less than 2% of the background info available to those making the selections, will ingest, second-guess and spew out their opinions on who should have been selected, and more errors will be made. As a hockey fan, I will follow the first round with interest. It is the later rounds that prove most interesting because this is where the errors of omission occur and form the talent pool that forms the rosters of the teams in the AHL.
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.
I learned to love the game of hockey early in life. The first magazine I subscribed to was the ‘Hockey’ magazine, which became mine after my dad had read it. On the cover of the first edition was Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard, my first sports hero. Life was easier then. When you went to the store for cereal you had eleven to choose from; three were the hot cereals ‘Wheatena’, ‘Farina’ and ‘Rolled Oats’, none were instant. Cold varieties roared like tigers, were ‘shot from guns’ or would ‘snap, crackle and pop’ for your listening pleasure. Sugar Pops had yet to be given their more nutritionally acceptable name of ‘Corn Pops’ and nobody apologized for it.
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.
Embarrassed. That is the only word I can think of that describes how I feel about Thursday nights’ Sound Tigers loss to the Whale. It has little to do with the way the team played or the outcome of the game. It has nothing to do with the embarrassment I felt for the singer of our National Anthem who forgot the words. It has everything to do with the small crowd in attendence. I can only recall one time I felt that totally embarrassed.
After years of living in the same house, I had just moved into a one-bedroom condo on the first floor of a well-lit building in Bridgeport. Prior to that, my normal routine for nocturnal emissions was, rise from bed, take a left, another left, quick right and close the door behind me. In my new environs this familiar routine left me buck-naked in the hallway where looking to my right I could see the entrance to St. Ambrose Church. I was able to escape my embarrassment; the Sound Tigers were not as fortunate.
With the possible exception of World Cup Soccer, there is no contest in sports more intense than playoff hockey at any level. Tonight at 7pm The Webster Bank Arena will play host to the AHL’s opening round of the Calder Cup Championships. This years contest starts with an historic battle between the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, proud affiliate of the New York Islanders, and Hartford’s Whale, the New York Rangers sister club.
While the two teams have met some 130 times in the last 11 years, they have never faced each other in the playoffs. While Bridgeport holds a slight advantage in this years’ regular season 10 game competition, the only advantage that earns them is home ice. This is only an advantage if the fans come out and make it one. The fans that do show up can expect to see professional hockey at its best. Here is how I see it:
Time to put up or shut up. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers team has given all for the fans this season. They had their faces battered, spilled their blood, suffered through concussions and other physical abuse to win the division title and the banner that comes with it. They also earned home-ice advantage against the in-state rival Whale-pack. That seemingly small advantage could be what decides who takes the next step forward, but it is only an advantage if the fans show up and support the team.
I live on a boat on the Housatonic River in CT. The river is the Mason-Dixon line, Berlin Wall and Forty-second parallel of the sporting world. East of the river you are apt to be a Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins fan. If you are from the western side of the river you probably root for the Yankees, Giants and Rangers. Mets, Jets and Islanders fans sprinkle the landscape on both sides of the river suffering their collective pain and abuse and nobody cares about the NBA.