Since the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve leading to the beginning of 2012, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers have gone from being 5 games under .500, and a month of December where they went 2-10 to a record since then of an astonishing 14-2. But this record of recent success is not surprising when you watch this team play.
Surely Bridgeport is playing at a level not seen before in its 10 year history.
Bridgeport under Coach Thompson's direction, has suddenly developed an atmosphere of finding ways to win, and a series of young players who could help the Islanders on their current playoff push right now.
Observations on the Game
A moderate crowd in the middle of a long weekend, sprinkled with 50 or so hardy Bears fans (well done guys - very impressive) saw a slowish first period, followed by a game of growing intensity. Bridgeport plays a two-way game at the AHL level better than the Islanders do in the NHL, and does so with a squad where everyone contributes on defense without exception. This is important, as defense first is where the NHL has been since last year's Bruins war of attrition Stanley Cup has been followed by a lack of scoring league wide this year, and success of defense first teams such as the NSFW.
Credit here goes to Brent Thompson, Garth Snow and the scouts who have been picking up very useful parts from the ECHL. Thompson's experience with the 2011 ECHL Champion Alaska Aces clearly shows, as all 14 skaters contribute with energy - making this team a nice mix of Islanders prospects learning how to win, surrounded by hungry guys who can contribute at least at the AHL level. This has created a win at all costs atmosphere, which frankly, the Islanders all too often do not demonstrate, especially on home ice. This game got physical as it went on, and that's the other thing about this group - no one shies away from contact. Sadly it looked like Rakhshani got a mild concussion late in the game - not his first - man, this can be a tough game. Bridgeport won this game by facing a slightly below strength but physical Hershey team with a dynamic flow (Bridgeport outshot Hershey roughly 2-1) and tough defense, and this mini-war of attrition made it to the SO. An analysis of prospects follows.
Top Prospects (3)
Had seen him dominate before on Bridgeport ice, and he was called up right afterwards and looked good until his own concussion injury. He must only be down here due to numbers (cap floor) - otherwise, I don't get it. Ullstrom was the best Sound Tiger by far as he has been much of the season. He hits, he scores, he creates - he belongs on a line now with Martin & Bailey. Does anyone know when we can cut Rolston and not be penslized? Martin-Bailey-Ullstrom should be a very good 3rd line for the Islanders down the stretch assuming the Islanders have the cap room to cut the various cap mules burdening the roster, and keeping that team from being a similar group of 14 solid contrbutors.
Every time I see Casey, I see the same thing - someone who knows how to win, who is happy to do what it takes on every shift, has quick reflexes, creativity and smarts, can PK, and his team leading Plus/Minus seaks for itself (is it an all time Bridgeport record perhaps?). Casey is ready, has been ready, will be ready. He will be an excellent 4th line center, someone to get under your craw and do what it takes. He is exactly as advertized. Call him up now and get rid of Reasoner somehoww at the deadline if at all possible. Please. He can always be sent back for a Bridgeport playoff sequence, but he needs to be part of this Islanders playoff push now.
Donovan was a monster this game. With the other 5 on D being PTOs from the ECHL (albeit all contributed well), Donovan stood out. He played at least 25 minutes, and was bushed by the end of the game, but his game is evolving before our eyes. He looked dare I say it,Potvin like in his quarterbacking of this game. Again, this was not a full strength Hershey team, but Donovan is going to be a good one, and he is clearly someone benefiting from his days in the AHL. Ness, Donovan & de Haan next year will be a very nice addition to Streit, Amac & Hamonic - not quite enough strength, but 6 guys who can all play and play well. Donovan's performance this game was the most encouraging aspect for me, and all 3 of these guys have every reason to be excellent contributors to the Islanders very soon if not immediately.
Other Possible Islanders (6)
Others who are showing that they may have a future include:
Tomas Marcinko (his improved speed and defense first approach make him a 4th line candidate)
Anders Nilsson (handled the SO well, and is growing in confidence - probably needs one more year as the starter in Bridgeport, perhaps with Koskinen back as well ext season)
Justin Dibenedetto (kind of like the idea of his being the LW on a 4th line with Cizikas)
Rhett Rakhshani (not really showing enough and concussions not helping, but retains prospects - but is this team passing him by? I'd argue yes)
Jeremy Colliton (hoping he sticks around, his two way game is solid and he can contribute up top as needed)
Trevor Frischmon (plays a very nice two way game - is a similar player to TIm Wallace - was a nice pickup by Snow, and you can see why he almost made the Islanders out of preseason)
The ECHL Guys
A special shout out to Brent Thompson and whomever is scouting ECHL guys who can contribute strongly for Bridgeport. There has been a procession of players since late last year, and it is clear that with the right scouting, top ECHL guys who play with commitment belong on an AHL team, and its that energy that is really useful to mix in with good NHL prospects as opposed to what is all too often AHL guys playing out the string and know it - not the case here.
Fully 5 of the D on PTOs - Jon Landry, Brendan Gentile, Steve Oleksy (all 3 have a little something to their games and belong at least at the AHL level) - Wes Cunningham & Dallas Jackson (both a bit more tentative, but had enough to make this a solid enough 6 D on this day and are relatively new to the team) - Olson has also shown that he can play an AHL game
Forwards Blair Riley & Tyler McNeely pepper the team's play with enough strength to act as a nice counterbalance to the more offensive Scott Howes & Kael Mouillierat, both who have nose for offense that shows at this level. Add Backman's energy and Haley's dynamism (and his one punch knockdown fight was him playing his other role well), and you have 12 forwards night in and night out who all dig in with max effort and enough quality to win most games.
This may have been the most encouraging, entertaining game I've seen the Sound Tigers play. They have no banners since 2001-02, and that has every chance of changing this year. As soon as possible, Ullstrom, Donovan & Cizikas should get time with the Islanders helping their realistic playoff push (does anyone want the 8th seed anyway? to play the Rangers in Round 1? we sure as heck do! 1975 baby)
And it would also be nice to make a nice playoff run here as well - winning is contagious, and it is a mysterious thing to figure out the alchemy required, there is magic involved. Bridgeport has that - it should be cultivated and passed around as well.
And to think that next year will only be more exciting assuming players like Strome, Niederreiter, Kabanov, Petrov, Kichton and possibly some of our College prospects as well have time to learn under Thompson - assuming he hasn't been promoted - he's not one to let get away.