Bridgeport Sound Tigers 2008-09 season preview

By Jason Menard

A 40-36-1-3 record last season may be respectable, but it wasn’t enough for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to make the AHL playoffs — nor was it enough to stave off wholesale changes in the club’s AHL roster. The Tigers have lost five key players to their NHL parent and are counting on a wholesale influx of new talent to return the club to the post-season.

Forwards

Gone from the roster are players such as the highly-touted Kyle Okposo and leading goal scorer Jeff Tambellini, who finished second in the AHL with 38 goals — one behind regular-season scoring champ Jason Krog.

Ben Walter returns to the lineup — a welcome arrival, in light of the fact that the Tigers have lost three of their four top scorers from last season, with Steve Regier and Frans Neilsen joining the aforementioned Tambellini on the dearly departed list. With these three players having graduated to the NHL as members of the Islanders’ roster, the club will be looking to a pair of new additions to the club to step right in and assume key roles on the club’s roster.

Mike Igguiden hopes to at least match his 29-goal, 37-assist production from last year, which earned him a spot on the AHL’s Canadian All-Star squad. Signed as a free agent, the 25-year-old center will be counted on providing both veteran influence and a physical presence — and at 6’3, 215 pounds he has the goods to deliver — to a roster that’s essentially undergone a wholesale change. The Islanders are also hoping that he’ll continue the three-year trend, which has seen him increase his offensive productivity (48 points in 2005-06 with the Cleveland Barons and 57 points in 2006-07 with the Worcester Sharks).

Joining Igguiden this season is 27-year-old Kurtis McLean, who was signed as a free agent after compiling totals of 22 goals and 32 assists with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season. These two veterans were imported to the Tigers largely to fill the void created by the loss of the club’s key scoring leaders.

The club also went a little further afield in its search for offense, adding Finnish forward Jesse Joensuu, a 6’4, 220-pounder who was the Islanders’ second-round selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Joensuu had a one-game guest appearance in the Tigers’ final game last season, and the club is hoping for a more marquee performance, akin to his 17-goal, 35-point final season in the Finnish League, this year.

Defense

The third key acquisition for the Tigers came on the blueline in the form of 25-year-old Joe Callahan, a 6’3, 220-pounder who followed up a solid 24-point season with the Portland Pirates with a stellar post-season performance in which he accounted for 12 points in 18 playoff games en route to the Atlantic Division championship.

Andrew MacDonald returns to the Tigers line-up this season and hopes to stick for the whole year, after spending the majority of his rookie pro campaign in the ECHL. Jamie Fraser accounted for 24 points last year, but his minus-17 performance offset his offensive accomplishments. The club will be looking for a more balanced effort out of Fraser and fellow returning veteran Mark Wotton, who negatively balanced his 20-point production with a minus-11 rating.

Former second-round selection Dustin Kohn returns, bringing his defensively responsible game back to the Tigers blueline and the defensive corp is rounded out by former Utah Grizzlies blueliner Andy Sertich.

Goal

The roster overhaul didn’t end with the five up-front skaters — the Tigers complete revamped their netminding duo with the free-agent signing of the 27-year-old former Hamilton Bulldog Yann Danis and 24-year-old Peter Mannino, who graduated from the University of Denver and promptly signed a free agent contract with the Islanders.

They replace last year’s goaltending tandem of Joey MacDonald, who begins the year backing up Rick DiPietro in New York, and Mike Morrison, whose netminding career has taken him to Slovenia to play in the Erste Bank Hockey League.

Danis is an AHL veteran with all-star potential, who has not shown the ability to translate his AHL dominance into a steady NHL gig. He should provide a solid veteran presence between the pipes and will engage in much the same tutoring role that he had in Hamilton where he mentored Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak towards the NHL roster spot that’s eluded him to date.

Mannino should get a fair shake at earning ice time, and with a system that’s devoid of solid goaltending prospects, it appears the Missouri native placed himself in a solid situation to further his career.

Coach

Jack Capuano returns behind the bench for a second season with the Tigers. The long-time coach and general manager of the ECHL’s Pee Dee Pride also served a stint behind the bench of the parent Islanders as an assistant coach. Capuano’s first season saw a modest improvement from the sub-.500 record the club attained in the year prior to his ascension. However, expecting a similar increase may be out of the cards for the Tigers this year, in light of the substantial changes to the roster and the loss of so much key personnel.