Last Friday, I went to see the Sound Tigers play. My hope for the Islanders season was mainly diminished, and I thought seeing Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang play might invigorate my faith in this franchise. As I drove, Billy Joel’s Allentown came on the radio.
Well we’re living here in Allentown
And they’re closing all the factories down.
Bridgeport is technically a city, but It has the feel of a small town. There’s the Harbor Yard Arena, where the Sound Tigers play, a very nice restaurant, and not much else. Despite that, I expected a rather large crowd. Tickets were difficult to comer by and were far more expensive than I expected for an AHL game. Furthermore, there was a promotional beer tasting event before the game that I was sure would bring in the whole town. I waited in the pub area alongside a small group of fans, some dressed in Isles jerseys, others in plainclothes. It was either families talking amongst each other quietly, or loud kids in their 20s here for a decent night out. There was no sense of energy or enthusiasm for a game that had the Sound Tigers on a winning streak against the first place team in the division. I assumed the crazier fans were drinking at the beer tasting event.
Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
Filling out forms, Standing in line
The warmups were the average hockey warmups: a small crowd peeling themselves to the glass to see the players fool around. I did the same, looking for #17 and #26, the only two that I were really here to see. Dal Colle I found soon enough. He was doing the normal warmups, skating around and joking with the other guys. It was impossible to miss Ho-Sang. He was gliding around the ice, joining in the warmups with everyone else, albeit with a twist: he was shimmying to the warmup music. At dramatic moments in the beat, he’d jump up and shake his body as he skated. If anyone else noticed or cared, they didn’t react.
Well our fathers fought the Second World War
Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore
Met our mothers in the USO
Asked them to dance
Danced with them slow
And we're living here in Allentown
The game starting, I scanned the crowd. At this point the beer-guzzlers must have filled in, I thought. Even so, the building was almost empty—maybe 2,000 or so. The lineups were announced, Dal Colle being part of it. He was on the second line, not paired with Ho-Sang, who was on the third. Veteran grizzled grinder Steve Bernier was the top-line wing. I knew this going in, so I wasn’t angry. But I didn’t like it. The Sound Tigers scored quickly. Bernier on a 2-on-1. The small crowd cheered. A few did the Yes chant. Ho-Sang hadn’t even seen the ice at this point.
But the restlessness was handed down
And it's getting very hard to stay
Michael Dal Colle won’t stand out much, unless he has the puck. Even then, he won’t do anything flashy or eye-popping. He’ll simply make the smart move at the right time. His passes are crisp, his shot is strong. The issue wasn’t with him, but with his linemates. Dal Colle is the rock in a slingshot, a strong weapon that needs someone else to pull him back. Winquist and Fritz aren’t those guys. They can’t pass to him in space so he can unleash his shot, and they aren’t skilled enough to take advantage of his passes.
Well we're waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard, If we behaved
On the flip-side, Ho-Sang is electric. The Sound Tigers unfortunately use the same system as the Islanders, which means lots of dumping and chasing. JHS doesn’t do that. He dashes into the zone, finds a passing lane, and helps generate a shot or scoring chance. His passing is beautiful as he dances around the o-zone, finding a teammate’s stick, generating shots and scoring chances almost by his lonesome. My favorite moment was when the puck popped out of the offensive zone, Ho-Sang retrieved ot by the boards, with two defenders on him. Most players would chip it in. Ho-Sang decided to fight the two men for the puck, win the battle, run into the zone, and pass to for a scoring chance. Josh Ho-Sang is the modern NHL player—speed, skill, and vision.
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coal, chromium steel
Early in the game the Sound Tigers were on the power play. I moved up in my seat, excited to see the two kids work the man advantage. My eyes were fixed on them on the bench, wanting to see them get up and skate to the faceoff circle. They stayed put. Instead, Bernier, Bracken Kearns, and Carter Verhaeghe skated out instead. I may have yelled loudly at Brent Thompson at that point. But when the two were out on the PP, it was beautiful. Ho-Sang fed everyone for great chances, giving Dal Colle three great chances in the slot. Only strong goaltending effort prevented them from putting points on the board. But the time they got to strut their stuff was minimal.
And we're waiting here in Allentown
Ho-Sang also makes mistakes. He dangles too much, trying to make the perfect pass. This causes defenders to poke the puck off his stick. He also has an extreme case of Bailey-it is: he had the puck in the slot twice, electing to not take the shot but instead pass to a teammate to try for a stuff-in. It didn’t work either time. When the shift was over he went to the bench and shook his head. The next time he was out he made sure to shoot, quickly and aggressively. But the damage was done.
Every child had a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our face
The game went to overtime. The Sound Tigers, much like their NHL counterparts, were widely outshot by a team who clearly was constructed in a stronger manner. Ho-Sang wasn’t out for the 3-on3. Overtime went Bridgeport’s way in a matter befitting a three stooges sketch—Bernier led the other Sound Tigers into crashing the net so hard they all fell over, and the puck bounced off them and into the net. There was a moment of waiting for the officials to confirm the goal. They did, and I left. Ho-Sang and Dal Colle were pointless.
And it's getting very hard to stay…