MARLBOROUGH, Mass. (Oct. 4, 2012) – Sound Tigers goaltender Anders Nilsson stopped 34 of 35 shots and Johan Sundstrom, Mike Halmo and Nino Niederreiter each scored as Bridgeport defeated the Providence Bruins 3-1 in an exhibition game at the New England Sports Center on Thursday night. With the win, the Sound Tigers improve to 1-0-0-0 in preseason play. Providence’s record is now even at 1-1-0-0.
Physicality dictated the early portion of play, as three separate fights took place in the first 3:45 of the first period. Sound Tigers forward Blair Riley squared off with Bruins forward Bobby Robins just 24 seconds into the first period. Just 1:25 later, Brett Gallant fought Tyler Randell and took the Bruins forward down to the ice. The final scrap of the period came at 3:45 when former P-Bruin Nathan McIver dropped the gloves with Kelsey Wilson.
The Bruins jumped on the scoreboard at the 2:44 mark of the opening frame. The Sound Tigers were caught on the forecheck, leading to a 3-on-2 breakout for Providence. Justin Florek left the puck dropped the puck at the right circle for Christian Hanson, who fired it over Anders Nilsson’s right shoulder to give the Bruins a 1-0 advantage.
Every team has areas they want to improve upon during the offseason, and the Sound Tigers were no different. With the departure of eight of their top 10 scorers from last season, the Sound Tigers needed to add some offense. A veteran presence was needed with eight rookies on the current roster. The Sound Tigers also hoped to bolster a penalty kill that finished 19th out of 30 teams in the AHL last year.
First year Sound Tiger Matt Watkins is entering his fourth pro season, and feels he’ll be able to contribute in each of those areas.
“I played all three forward positions last year, mostly center and left wing,” Watkins said. “I was a regular penalty killer and I bring a lot of speed to the game, which I think is my greatest asset. I can score goals and make plays too. I like to think I’m an all-around two-way forward who can play up and down the lineup.”
Coaches and players across sports make references to war when describing what happens on the field of play (or ice, in the Sound Tigers case).
Terms such as, “It was a war out there,” or “We won the battle in the trenches,” are often used to illustrate the competitive nature between two opposing teams.
On Sunday, Oct. 2, the Sound Tigers had the privilege of spending a day with some of the men and women who actually put their lives on the line to defend our country. The team traveled to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey to take part in team building exercises under the tutelage of Marines from Marine Aircraft Group 49.
“It was a very cool day out here,” Sound Tigers forward Brock Nelson said. “We got a little briefing when we got off the bus, and there was a little bit of shock. It was pretty crazy to see some of the stuff they go through to protect us and keep us free.”
For the first time in a long time, Friday was Scott Pellerin’s first day on the job. The Sound Tigers new head coach has over 850 professional games as a player and six years as an assistant coach with the Manchester Monarchs under his belt, but Friday’s practice to open Training Camp marked his first day as an AHL head coach.
“It’s great to finally get on the ice, put on a track suit with the Sound Tigers logo and watch our players skate and do their testing,” Pellerin said, following the Sound Tigers first on-ice workouts at training camp at Iceworks on Long Island. “We’ve got so much support here from the Islanders and it’s great to get started.”
A total of 62 players ended up playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers during the 2011-12 season. Some played as few as one game, others appeared in more than 70. The vast majority of those players had various changes of scenery, whether they were call-ups to Long Island or demotions to East Coast or Central Hockey League teams.
One of only a handful to have spent his entire season with the Sound Tigers was David Ullstrom. The rookie forward appeared in 67 games with the Sound Tigers, the third most on the team. The Sound Tigers had a roster that was in flux for most of the season, but Ullstrom was a constant presence that could be relied on by the end of the year. Although he never got the NHL call up he had been hoping for, he took plenty of positives away from his first pro campaign in the U.S.
“I was really happy with last season,” said Ullstrom following an on ice session at Islanders training camp. ”When the season first began, I wasn’t really to sure what to expect. As the year went on, I grew as a player. I was happy with my production after Christmas, I got to understand the system and the game a little more. It's so much different than back home, and as time passed and I got to know the guys more it got better.”
Ullstrom signed his entry-level contract during the summer of 2010. The Islanders fourth round pick (102nd overall) from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft had played previously with HV71 Jonkoping of the Swedish Elite League, but his role was relatively limited. That was far from the case last season, when Ullstrom played big minutes and was used in every situation.
“I saw a lot of opportunities from the start, I was really excited by the amount of minutes I saw,” Ullstrom said. “I had a lot of responsibility whether it was as a center on one of the top lines, or being on the power play and even some time on the penalty kill at the end of the year.”
Those opportunities arose due in part to the large amount of injuries sustained by the Islanders during the season. By the second half of the 2011-12 season, the Sound Tigers roster was merely a shell of what it was in October. The team’s struggles in the second half were something that Ullstrom had never experienced before, but knows there’s plenty to take away from the end of the season.
“It was my first time playing on a team that didn’t make the playoffs,” Ullstrom explained. “Back in Sweden, I always played for successful teams. It was very different in that way, but it was something I’m going to take with me and remember. This year I think we’re going to be a lot better. There’s a lot of solid, young talent and if I don’t make the Islanders out of camp ill go to Bridgeport. I think both teams will very good this year.”
Last season, Ullstrom’s numbers came in waves. Despite his solid overall numbers to conclude the season (17 goals, 24 assists), Ullstrom only had one goal from Dec. 1 – Feb. 13., but broke out of that with six goals in a three-game span, earning AHL Player of the Week honors.
“Consistency is a huge thing for me,” Ullstrom said. “That’s something I know I have to improve. I had a lot of different linemates last season so it was hard to develop a lot of chemistry at times. I had some good streaks last season, but I need to have more consistency if I’m going to be successful and make it to Long Island.”
Ullstrom saw many of those who were closest to him make that step to the NHL. Last season, he was roommates with fellow rookies Travis Hamonic, Kevin Poulin, and Rhett Rakhshani, all of whom saw different amounts of time with the Islanders. Despite not getting that call, Ullstrom was encouraged to know the opportunities to move up were there.
“It was huge to get to live with Hammer and Pouls and Rhett, they all got their chances. It was nice to see them succeed, and obviously I want that chance this year. It’s exciting though because the Islanders want to promote from within, and I want to be a part of it. Hopefully I can make the team out of camp and if not, I’ll hope I get that call from Cappy at some point.
Just like other players at Islanders Training Camp, Ullstrom’s goal this season is simple.
"My main goal is obviously to make the Islanders out of camp,” Ullstrom said. “But if not, I’m going to play my best for the fans in Bridgeport and if I get my chance, I’ll try to prove that I’m good enough to play at the NHL level.”
Leadership is an intangible in hockey that is vital to the success of a team. Regardless of how things shake out following training camp, the Sound Tigers will be a team made up of mostly young, talented prospects in their first few seasons of pro hockey.
It’s unchartered waters for a team which has had two-time AHL all-star and 17-year veteran Mark Wotton wear the “C” for the past five seasons. Wotton will not be the one wearing the “C” in Bridgeport this year, leaving the door open for new players to fill that role.
Leadership behind the bench will be different as well this season. Head coach Brent Thompson and assistant coach Eric Boguniecki both enter their first year in those positions at the American Hockey League level. Thompson led the Alaska Aces of the East Coast Hockey League to a Kelly Cup Championship last season, and believes the leadership begins with himself, Boguniecki and assistant coach Matt Bertani.
“Leadership is taught, and the coaching staff will be the main leaders,” Thompson said. “Our players will be an extension, and I’d love for some of the younger players to learn from that. A leader is someone who approaches the game professionally, he approaches practice professional, and his habits and his attention to detail are impeccable. A guy who strives for perfection and demands it from himself and his teammates…that’s a leader.”
One player who may be a natural fit for that role if he does not crack the Islanders lineup to start the season is Sound Tigers all-time leading scorer Jeremy Colliton. Colliton is third all-time in games played with the Sound Tigers, and has worn the “A” for parts of all five seasons he’s been a member of the Sound Tigers, four of those with former captain Mark Wotton.
“You spend enough time with a guy such as Mark, you can’t help but learn a lot,” Colliton explained. “I’m going to be the same guy I’ve always been. I believe that you do as you say and you’ve got to be honest with people, and sometimes you have to tell people things they don’t want to hear. And if you praise them when it’s warranted, they’re more receptive to what you’re saying and what you’re offering.”
Newcomers to the Islanders organization who could potentially provide some leadership in Bridgeport throughout the season are Trevor Frischmon and Tim Wallace. Frischmon comes to the Islanders after five seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. The Ham Lake, Minn. native was a steady presence with Columbus’ American Hockey League affiliates Syracuse and Springfield the past three seasons, appearing in 235 of 240 games.
“I take pride in what I do on the ice, and I think from a leadership standpoint I’ve always liked to lead by example,” said Frischmon, who appeared in all 80 games with the Springfield Falcons last season. “I like to show the younger guys how you need to work and practice and take care of yourself off the ice, help to guide them through pro hockey. I was a captain in college and in juniors, an assistant captain the past couple years so it’s something I’m comfortable with.”
Wallace’s story is similar to that of Frischmon’s, having spent the past five seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. The Anchorage, Alaska native was a 20-goal scorer the past two seasons in Wilkes-Barre (AHL), and donned the “A” with the Penguins last season.
“Leadership is the key to success. In order to win, you need a core group of leaders,” Wallace said. “I was an assistant captain in Wilkes-Barre and I know what it takes to be a leader. I lead by example and want to work hard to get as many wins as we can whether that’s in Bridgeport or on Long Island.”
Two younger players who could end up in Bridgeport that are more familiar with the Webster Bank Arena ice are Justin DiBenedetto and Tomas Marcinko. DiBenedetto appeared in nine games with the Islanders last season and both are vying for spots on the Island to start the year. Although both of them are just 23 years old, Marcinko and DiBenedetto rank third and fourth respectively amongst current Islanders/Sound Tigers in games played in Bridgeport.
Those are just five possible players that could take that leadership role this season. Thompson says that age doesn’t play any role, and he embraces the prospects of a group of leaders to take the lead, regardless of who wears letters on the sweaters.
“I think the more leaders you have the better, and you find the best leaders are your best followers,” Thompson explained. “We want people who have high character. You want to get a feel for a team, I’m a big believer in a group and if you get four or six guys who are an extension of you, the locker room is in a better place.”
Colliton believes the Sound Tigers will be a successful team this season with Thompson at the helm, regardless of who makes the cut to start the year.
“(Thompson’s) obviously had a lot of success. If you know what it takes to win, you can teach others," Colliton said. "To me, that’s the most important skill you can learn. How to win…it’s a million different things and its one thing. No matter whether you’re young or old, if there is certain things you have to do to win and its non-negotiable, you do it. And that’s how you win.”
|David Ullstrom shows off his Mets gear at Citi Field prior to the Mets vs. Phillies game on Friday, July 15, 2011.|
Although only a handful of player at this week’s mini-camp are from the New York Area, there are a few notables who consider themselves big Mets fans. David Ullstrom, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin were decked out in Mets shirts and hats for the game, urging on the home team.
Cizikas and Justin DiBenedetto did their best Howie Rose/Butch Goring impressions as they tried their hand at some play-by-play during the fifth inning.
Friday night’s Mets game was also camp invite Art Bidlevskii’s first baseball game. Hear what he thought of the experience, and see if his play-by-play skills were close to the team of Cizikas and DiBenedetto.
Although the Mets dropped the 7-2 decision to the Phillies, the players were able to use the opportunity to spend some time with each other one last time before facing off in Saturday night’s Blue and White Scrimmage.
- Newly-signed Kirill Kabanov caught the only keeper of the day, despite the fact that he wouldn’t touch the fish saying, “Did you see its teeth? They’re big!”
- Defenseman Matt Donovan struggled to land fish on his line, but did have a few catches. "if you include Brett (Gallant) and Nesser’s (Aaron Ness) fishing lines," Donovan had said.
- Justin DiBenedetto, Calvin de Haan and Casey Cizikas battled amongst themselves to see who would reel in the most fish. DiBenedetto came away with four fish and was deemed the winner, despite accusations of cheating after pulling in a fish following the boat’s horn to lift the lines from the water. DiBenedetto’s reply? “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”
Here are a few photos:
|Islanders prospects pose for a picture aboard the James Joseph II as they fish on the Long Island Sound on Tuesday, July 12, 2011.|
|Kirill Kabanov caught the only "keeper" when the Islanders prospects went fishing on the Long Island Sound on Tuesday, July 12, 2011.|
|Islanders prospects fish on the Long Island Sound aboard the James Joseph II on Tuesday, July 12, 2011.|
Fitness testing always stirs up a little friendly competition. Find out if Rhett Rakhshani or David Ullstrom takes the win in the triple jump.