It’s the end of an era. What that era means, no one really knows.
Brent Thompson, the longtime AHL coach for the New York Islanders — mostly of the “Bridgeport Sound Tigers,” who in recent years have been known simply as the Bridgeport Islanders — has left the organization to accept an assistant coach position in the NHL, with the Anaheim Ducks. He’ll join the staff of new head coach Greg Cronin, who was Bridgeport’s first coach and whose second stint with the Islanders at the NHL level overlapped with Thompson’s Bridgeport run.
Thompson spent two years (2012-14) as an assistant on the NHL Islanders bench, before returning to lead Bridgeport, which he initially led in 2011-12 after leading a championship at ECHL Alaska.
It’s almost hard to recall now, and some may not, but Thompson succeeded Jack Capuano as Bridgeport’s boss, after Capuano was named mid-season interim of the NHL Islanders and then got the full-time gig following Garth Snow’s failed Scott Gordon experiment.
Year after year, it began to feel like Thompson and the Bridgeport team would never part. He wasn’t considered a “hot” NHL coaching candidate, but the Isles brass wasn’t kicking him out either. The longevity without postseason success is rare. He became the longest-tenured coach (in one place) in the league.
So what is Thompson’s legacy? That’s where it is quite complicated.
On one hand, playoff appearances in Bridgeport were rare and fleeting. On the other hand, for much of his tenure, the Islanders did not invest in the kind of high-caliber players that successful AHL franchises — some owned by NHL parents, some independent — were routinely using.
On the one hand, there was constant debate among fans whether any of the Islanders prospects were truly developing at the AHL level. On the other hand, plenty of core pieces spent time in Thompson’s Bridgeport, including (briefly) Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, Casey Cizikas, Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech. There was also a would-be core piece in Devon Toews, who refined his pro game under Thompson before becoming an Islander good enough to be a much-regretted cap casualty. More recently, a player with some promise, like William Dufour, had a strong first pro year under Thompson.
And there is hardly a list of players who flamed out or were doghoused by Thompson who went on to greatness elsewhere. He did not ruin Josh Ho-Sang, Kieffer Bellows, or Michael Dal Colle — none of whom has achieved anything of note after starting pro careers under Thompson. A question could be raised about Otto Koivula, who succeeded enough in Bridgeport to get NHL looks, but has yet to impress in the NHL.
As the Connecticut Post’s AHL Bridgeport beatwriter Michael Fornabaio put it:
Thompson’s teams often seemed to play in his image: feisty, temperamental and, above all, hard-working. In his first stint, players said his practices were among the toughest they’d ever been through. Opposing coaches routinely said they didn’t expect to outwork the Sound Tigers.
While fan frustration is understandable given results, the actual evidence of what could be done with his rosters is limited, or just average. Thompson garnered trust across multiple regimes, and from outside the organization, and multiple players did credit him in their development.
The somewhat late, or at least mid-summer timing of this move means the Islanders are a little behind in the successor search, unless they knew this was a good possibility. One of his assistants, Rick Kowalsky, was brought in by the Lamoriellos and has AHL head coaching experience with the Devils.
Whichever way they go, however happy or completely unmoved you are, it’s gonna be weird seeing Bridgeport without him.