The Bridgeport Sound, er, Islanders open up their first “normal” regular season since 2018-19 when they head to Hartford to face their intrastate rivals, the Wolfpack. I thought it would be a good idea to recap their busy offseason
Let’s start back in May. After two decades, gone are the Sound Tigers, rebranded as the Bridgeport Islanders, to create a strong connection to their parent team, the New York Islanders. The team’s new logo incorporates a small part of the Islanders’ logo.
There was speculation that the name change could lead to the AHL Islanders relocating perhaps to Long Island and the now empty Nassau Coliseum, but those fears were quickly erased as the city of Bridgeport signed a ten-year lease in August with the franchise to remain in the Park City. The city agreed to pump $28 million into the Webster Bank Arena.
Brent Thompson is entering his ninth year as Bridgeport head coach. He has not advanced past the first round in his three trips to the Calder Cup playoffs. You could say he was put on notice this offseason with the dismissals of his long-time assistants, Eric Boguniecki and Matt Carkner. Boguniecki was the 2001-02 AHL MVP and one-season Bridgeport Sound Tiger, arrived with Thompson to coach the Sound Tigers in 2011. He had been in place ever since, including two seasons, 2012-14, when Thompson served as a New York Islanders assistant coach. Carkner joined the Sound Tigers staff in 2016 when he retired after 15 pro seasons, the last four in the Islanders organization.
The two were replaced with someone that Lou Lamoriello knows well. Rick Kowalsky had been a member of the New Jersey Devils’ coaching staff the past three seasons, following eight years as head coach of the Devils’ AHL affiliates in Albany and Binghamton.He guided the AHL Devils to three Calder Cup Playoff appearances, in 2014, 2016 and 2017. In 2015-16, Kowalsky earned the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach.
Based on record, there could be a case for Thompson’s dismissal. However, when it comes down to it, the AHL is a developmental league. Thompson, a former NHL defenseman, had a hand in developing Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech. Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews.
Thompson gets a chance to develop two more defensive prospects. Robin Salo, the 46th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft, signed with the team back in February. The 22-year-old had an impressive camp and could be the first defenseman called up to the big club. Samuel Bolduc looked sharp in his Covid-shortened rookie season. He played all 24 games, netting 14 points. The 57th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft missed all of training camp due to injury but is poised to build upon his successful season a year ago.
One promising young defenseman who will not don an Islanders jersey in the near future, Bridgeport or New York, is Bode Wilde, who is the lone unvaccinated player in the organization. The 41st overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft was loaned to Vasterviks IK of the Swedish Hockey League.
Anatolii Golyshev joins the Islanders after spending eight seasons in the KHL. We will see how long he stays in the AHL. Russians don’t tend to last in Bridgeport. However while here, he will provide a spark. Richard Panik, acquired in the Nick Leddy trade, will start the season in Bridgeport.
Chris Terry signed a one-year deal with Bridgeport after playing 2020-21 in the KHL. The 32-year-old ranks 76th in scoring in AHL history with 552 points, and he led the league in scoring for Laval in 2017-18 with 71 points.
Other veteran additions include forward Andy Andreoff and defenseman Paul LaDue.
Having veteran depth is a double-edge sword in the AHL. Thanks to the veteran rule, teams can dress up to 18 skaters, but they’re only allowed five a night who have played over 260 games in the NHL, AHL or a top European league. One extra veteran is allowed as long as he hasn’t played more than 320 games. Bridgeport has nine veterans (Terry, Austin Czarnik, Andreoff, Panik, Golyshev, Seth Helgeson, Thomas Hickey and Cole Bardreau) who fall into that 260 category.
A total of 23 teams will qualify for postseason play when the regular season ends on April 24, with five rounds of playoffs leading to the crowning of a Calder Cup champion.
In each of the AHL’s four divisions, all but two teams will qualify for postseason play in , creating a playoff field of six teams in the Bridgeport’s Atlantic Division, five in the North Division, five in the Central Division and seven in the Pacific Division. Teams will be ranked by points percentage in the regular season.
Bridgeport opens the season with a four-game road trip before their home opener next Saturday against Springfield. The last time the Islanders played in front of their fans at Webster Bank Arena was March 11, 2020.