The Bridgeport Sound Tigers: First Look

By Joe Muccia
Recently, the Islanders announced some of the front office and
staff of their brand new AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport SoundTigers.
Gordie Clark was named the General Manager and Steve Stirling was hired
shortly after as the first head coach of the new franchise. David
Baseggio was hired as an assistant coach, with the expressed purpose of
working with the Isles young defensive prospects. Former Islanders
owner Roy Boe owns the SoundTigers. It is kind of weird how that worked
out; Boe left the Worcester Ice Cats organization (the St. Louis Blues
primary affiliate) to return to an Islanders organization that he
brought into the NHL.

I would like to look at the possible roster for the SoundTigers,
broken down by position. For the most part the list is done in no
particular order. Some of the players listed may stay in their native
countries or at college so this list could very well change before the
puck drops on the SoundTigers first game.

Center

Along with defense and goaltending, this is one of the deepest
positions for the SoundTigers. Due to depth on the Islanders, some
possible NHLers will probably appear on the Tigers roster.

1. Justin Mapletoft – the Isles 5th pick in 1999 had a monster season
for the WHL Red Deer Rebels. He posted 43 goals and 120 points in 70
games. Under the tutelage of former Islanders great, Brent Sutter, the
5’11”, 207lb. center took his game to new heights. Originally thought
of as a defensive prospect, his offensive explosion was an unexpected
surprise. Expect to see Justin centering the Tigers first or second
line and playing in all situations.

2. Jason Krog – signed as an undrafted free agent, his contract has
expired and there has been no word whether or not the Isles will resign
him. They do retain his rights though. There is no doubt Jason has
excellent vision and passing skills. His biggest problem is size and
footwork. Last year, Ottawa defenseman Karel Rachunek destroyed Jason
behind the Ottawa net while he was making a pass into the slot. If he
was more fleet of foot he might have avoided the check that cost him a
good portion of his season. Before the injury, Jason showed excellent
poise and skill on the Isles dreadful power play. If retained by the
Isles, Jason could also find himself centering the Tigers first or
second line and getting considerable power play time.

3. Petr Mika – the 6’4″, 195lbs. centerman is huge. Mika is still young
at 23 and could, with the right program, put some weight on his tall
frame. He was out of his element in the few games he played for the
Isles in the 1999-2000 season. He seems to be destined for third line
duty with the Tigers.

4. Brian Collins – Collins is the wildcard of the bunch. He is more
offensively talented than Mika and this alone would put him ahead on the
Tigers depth chart. Collins, drafted in the 3rd round in 1999, had an
excellent season for the Terriers, showing proficiency on the power play
and even scoring a hat trick during the Beanpot Tournament. In all
probability, the young centerman will return to Boston University for
his final two years.

5. Marco Charpentier – posted 57 goals and 112 points in 71 games for
Baie Comeau (QMJHL). He was signed as an undrafted free agent after
attending the Isles 2000 training camp. Marco scored in all situations
(15 PPG’s, 6 SHG’s and 9 GWG’s for Baie Comeau) and has good size at 6′,
200lbs. He could be one of those undrafted gems that makes a
difference. Look for him to end up in Bridgeport or with the Trenton
Titans (the Isles ECHL affiliate).

6. Shawn Bates – due to the Isles depth at center, the versatile Bates
could find himself playing on the Tigers. He is a natural center, but
can play any forward position. Shawn has played for Isles Head Coach
Peter Laviolette during stints with the Bruins and AHL Providence. He
has great speed and aptitude for penalty killing and the defensive
aspects of hockey. He is also talented enough offensively to not look
out of place on the power play. If Krog is not retained, Bates will
take his place as the first or second line center. If Krog is signed,
Bates will probably shift to left wing, due to the lack of depth there.

The Islanders also own the rights to centers Bjorn Melin,
Juha-Pekka Ketola and Dmitri Upper. At last years training camp, Upper
played well having a gritty in-your-face style mixed with decent puck
skills. He returned to his Russian team needing to work on face offs
and bulking up his 176lb. frame. While, Upper will most likely be at
camp, it is unknown if Melin and Ketola will attend. The Isles also
have 2001 4th round pick, Cory Stillman, but due to organizational depth
at center he could find himself back in juniors. The Isles feel
Stillman could be the steal of the 2001 draft.

Left Wing

This is probably the thinnest position for the Tigers. The only
legitimate left wing prospect, Raffi Torres, has a better than average
shot at making the Islanders in September.

1. Raffi Torres – at 5’11”, 207 lbs. Raffi is built like a tank. He has
the ability to score from anywhere (goal crease, booming slapper, you
name it he can do it), deliver the big hit, make the pretty pass,
backcheck, forecheck and win a fight. He posted 33 goals, 70 points and
76 PIM’s in 55 games for Brampton. His value to a team cannot be
estimated, proof: his one game suspension in the OHL playoffs sent
Brampton into a spiral that eventually cost them the hard-fought
series. If Raffi does not make the Isles, he will be the first line
left wing on even strength and power plays.

Right Wing

Where the Tigers have almost no depth at left wing, the total
opposite is true of right wing. The Tigers could have at least four
solid players available for the start of the season.

1. Juraj Kolnik – While with the Isles last year, he at times looked
like a child skating with the adults, even so there is no doubting
Juraj’s offensive skills. He has a rocket, proven at the expense of the
Edmonton Oilers (hopefully for the Isles with the first of many two goal
games) last year. At 5’10”, 182 lbs. Kolnik is small and not especially
fast but he has been working hard to improve his skating and back
checking. A pure sniper, this youngster could find himself on the
Islanders next year due to lack of goal scorers.

2. Mattias Weinhandl – Prior to the Sedin brothers turning pro with the
Canucks, it was thought that they carried Mattias along when he was the
right wing for them. He destroyed that myth by leading perennial
Swedish Elite powerhouse MoDo in points, power play goals and game
winning goals. He finished second in league MVP voting to present day
Toronto Maple Leaf Mikeal Renberg. He has excellent hands, speed and
passing ability. If Mattias comes to the U.S. he will probably end up
in Bridgeport to get used to North American hockey and lifestyle.

3. Trent Hunter – A big man at 6’3″, 195 lbs., Hunter excels at doing
the dirty work in the corners and at the crease. Tough to move and
defend against, his biggest knock has been his skating, which he has
been working on improving. Not especially quick, but with excellent
hands, he could develop into a Dave Andreychuk-type player. Depending
on where Kolnik and Weinhandl end up, Hunter could play right wing on
any one of the top three lines along with power play.

4. Marko Tuomainen – Although he posted excellent numbers at Lowell last
year, he was unable to duplicate those numbers for the Kings. Marko has
good hockey sense and plays excellent defensive hockey. Offensively, he
has a deceptive wrist shot and a booming slapshot. Due to the plethora
of offensive talent that will possibly be in Bridgeport next year, Marko
will undoubtedly draw many of the penalty killing and checking line
assignments.

5. Alexander Kharitonov – Unfortunately for Alex, he has three things
going against him: he is small, he does not have goal scorers’ instincts
and finally he is a right winger (of which this organization has many).
He does have excellent speed, passing ability and chemistry with Alexei
Yashin. With Czerkawski, Parrish and possibly Kolnik and/or Tuomainen
manning the right side on Long Island, this speedy winger could find
himself in Bridgeport.

The Islanders also own the rights to Kristofer Ottosson. It is
unknown whether Ottosson will come over from Sweden to attend camp.

Defense

This year the Islanders made a concerted effort to improve not only
the defensive depth of the organization but the quality of that depth.
Both Aris Brimanis and Anders Myrvold are gone. Brimanis was not
resigned (the Ducks signed Aris Aug. 1st) and Myrvold spurned an
Islanders offer and returned to Europe. To replace them the Islanders
signed Dick Tarnstrom, Marko Kiprosuff and brought back Ray Giroux.
Branislav Mezei will almost certainly be on the Island this year. That
will free up one spot in Bridgeport. With Hamrlik, Jonsson, Haller,
Cairns, Mezei, Aucoin and Sutton rounding out the Isles top seven
defensive spots many good young defenders will find themselves in
Bridgeport. With the organization now having depth, the youngsters will
be in Bridgeport refining their game and not being thrown to the wolves
on the Island, as was the case in the last few years.

1. Ray Giroux – Ray returns to the Isles organization after a year
hiatus in Finland. He played well there and was one of his team’s most
dependable defenders. The Isles can only hope that Ray’s time in
Finland does for him what it did for Brian Rafalski of the Devils. At
only 6′, 180lbs. he gets pushed around a bit as a defender. With any
luck, Ray used his time in Finland to improve his positional play. Ray
has excellent speed, passing skills and vision. At times during the
1999-2000 season, Butch Goring even used him as a forward. He remains a
very capable power play point man. In addition to power play duties,
Ray will probably play on one of the two top defensive pairings in
Bridgeport.

2. Marko Kiprosuff – Older brother of the Sharks goaltender, Mikka
Kiprosuff, Marko was originally a Montreal Canadiens draft pick. A
close friend of Montreal captain Saku Koivu, Marko has decent puck
skills and hockey smarts. He plays a conservative style that leads to
few errors. He does not take many chances. More of a stay at home
defenseman, Marko will probably be paired with a puck rushing
defenseman. Depending on whether he adapts to North American hockey
better than his last attempt, Marko could end up anywhere in the top six
of the Tigers defense.

3. Dick Tarnstrom – Of average size, Tarnstrom has very good puck
skills. He effectively makes the first pass out of the defensive zone.
Like Marko Kiprosuff, Tarnstrom plays a conservative style, but with
good individual skills. Tarnstrom has good offensive and defensive
instincts so he may end up playing in all situations (PP, PK and regular
shift). Because he plays a more consistent two-way game, he has a good
shot to be one of the top four defensemen on the Tigers.

4. Evgeny Korolev – At 6’1″, 186lbs., Korolev is a steady low-risk
defenseman who has played well for the Islanders on emergency call-up
basis. Recently resigning with the Isles for two years, he also holds
the distinction of being drafted by the Isles twice. Although not
terribly big, Korolev combines decent positional play and good passing
skills. Larger forwards can push him around and this is his downfall.
He will likely round out the top four in Bridgeport. If he cannot bulk
up to improve his play against larger forwards that are prevelant in the
NHL, who could be a staple of the Tigers defense for a long time.

5. Radek Martinek – This 6’1″, 200lb. defender could possibly play on
the top defensive pairing in Bridgeport. He skates well and is a good
shooter. After his impressive showing at the World’s, it was thought
that he might even push Haller and/or Sutton out of a job at Nassau
Coliseum. Keep an eye on Radek; I believe he has the best chance out of
this group to end up permanently with the Islanders.

6. Ray Schultz – “Sgt.” Schultz, as he is called, has also played well
for the Isles when called upon. He plays a hard checking,
sandpaper-in-your swimsuit style that is appreciated by fans and
teammates alike. Additionally, “Sarge” is not afraid to drop the
gloves to come to the defense of a teammate. He plays within his limits
and is a solid no-frills/thrills defenseman who does his best to get the
job done. He doesn’t have the skills to be an everyday NHL defenseman,
but will be there when the Isles call. The fans in Bridgeport will love
the intensity that Schultz will bring every night, especially when he
crunches some unfortunate opposing player into the boards.

7. Chris Armstrong – Signed to a one-year contract on Aug. 1st by the
Isles, Armstrong was an unrestricted free agent who had played three
games for the Minnesota Wild last year. The 6′, 215lb. left-handed
shooting defenseman will provide even more depth for the staff at
Bridgeport

In addition to the players listed above, the Islanders own the
rights to defensemen Johan Halvardsson, Arto Tukio and Ryan Caldwell,
but it is not known whether any of the three will even attend Islander
training camp in September.

Goalies

It seems that the Islanders have a glut of goaltenders. They just
don’t have glut of experienced goaltenders. It also seems to be Mike
Milbury’s wish that Rick DiPietro remain with the Islanders this year.
Unfortunately, it would be much better for his development and
confidence if he started the year in Bridgeport. I will not list
DiPietro here because of this.

1. Stephen Valiquette – It looked as if “Big Valley” was ready to stake
his claim in the NHL last year. John Vanbiesbrouck’s wonky back had him
in and out of the lineup. Wade Flaherty was in need of a back-up and
then wouldn’t you know it, one of Valiquette’s Springfield Falcon
teammates stepped on his barefoot with a skate in the locker room. The
damage done to his foot healed but another chance was missed buy the
amiable goalie. Stephen is the biggest goalie to ever play in an NHL
game (yes even bigger than Ken Dryden). Unless DiPietro ends up in
Bridgeport or “Big Valley” is totally outplayed by Salficky and/or St.
Germain, Stephen should have the inside track on the number one goalie
spot. He challenges well, has good lateral movement and is surprisingly
agile for a big man. In addition to those qualities he is one of the
nicest people in the game. Stephen recently resigned with the Islanders
for two years.

2. Dusan Salficky – The Islanders are hoping to reproduce the magic the
Flyers came up with last year. In a move reminiscent of the Flyers and
Roman Cechmanek, the Isles drafted the 29-year-old Salficky in the 5th
round of this year’s draft. Dusan was considered one of the top goalies
in the Czech Extra League. The physically flexible Salficky and the
Islanders both haggled a bit, but in the end were able to hammer out a
one-year one-way contract. There is the possibility that Salficky could
end up on the Island with Garth Snow. Regardless of where he ends up,
from his interviews Dusan seems to have an engaging personality and
maybe has something to prove. The competition will do both the Isles
and SoundTigers good.

3. David St. Germain – Teammate of Marco Charpentier on Baie Comeau
(QMJHL), the underrated St. Germain posted very respectable numbers for
a goalie in the run-and-gun “Q” (G-53, W/L 32-13-4, 3.48 GAA, .899 save
percentage). His numbers got even better in the playoffs where he went
6-4-0 with a shutout, 2.55 GAA and .920 save percentage. With David
being relatively young and the crease on the Island and Bridgeport
already crowded, he could be destined for Trenton. It won’t be long
before fans start seeing him in a SoundTiger uniform.

Conclusion

For the first time in quite a while, the Islanders have
organizational depth. The quality of that depth has been improved
markedly. They will also benefit from having a farm team that is only a
short ferry ride away. They also have chosen the staff so that the
Islanders management can be comfortable in knowing that a coaching
theory and style that they approve of is being taught. Hopefully, the
Islanders will have a long and successful relationship with Bridgeport
in the same manner as the Sabres and their top farm, the Rochester
Americans or the St. Louis Blues and the Worcester Ice Cats and the
Colorado Avalanche and the Hershey Bears. The foundation of any great
team starts with the quality of its top developmental farm team.
Players that are taught by an AHL staff that is of one mind with the NHL
club staff are easier to plug into the parent teams lineup. Good luck
SoundTigers, I for one can’t wait to see your graduates don the white,
blue and orange!