Heading into this past weekend’s action on a nine-game unbeaten streak,
Bridgeport Sound Tiger head coach Steve Stirling had to be wary of a
possible letdown by his team.
The letdown never came. It was more of a meltdown.
The Sound Tigers reversed form in consecutive home losses to sub-.500
Manitoba and Philadelphia, failing to score in either contest until Matt
Higgins’ shorthanded goal with just over four minutes remaining in the
“We got too many chefs and not enough cooks,’ said Stirling following
Saturday night’s 4-1 debacle at the hands of the Phantoms. ‘We’re a meat
and potatoes kind of team. We were trying to make a fancy kind of potato
The normally mild-mannered Stirling had a heated closed-door meeting with
his team immediately after the Saturday loss, which saw the Tigers snap a
scoreless streak that spanned over seven full periods of hockey.
“Nobody wants to get their nose dirty,’ Stirling noted. ‘They were taking
turns earlier on. Now no one’s doing it. When you have a team that won’t
get dirty and won’t go in traffic to get dirty, then the other team’s going
to have a field day keeping you on the outside. You can’t score on the
outside in this league.”
Stirling said his team lost track of what it takes to be successful over the
“Overall, we’re being too cute. We’re trying to be a cute team and we
aren’t a cute team. The last cute guy we had – Weinhandl – went up.”
Stirling wasn’t shy about naming particular players whom he expects to play
with a little more passion. The former Babson head coach said veteran
bangers, namely Ray Schultz and Alain Nasreddine, need to step up their
performance. He also expressed a displeasure with young Raffi Torres’
inability to maintain his trademark physicality.
“(Being physical) doesn’t mean running guys,’ says Stirling. ‘It just means
going into traffic and getting the **** beat out of you every once in
awhile, which is okay. You’re fully protected. You got to do it to be
successful. The last couple games, they weren’t willing to do it.”
The Bridgeport headmaster wasn’t at a loss for words when speaking of his
team’s ineptness on special teams. In the two weekend home losses, the
Sound Tigers were a combined 0-for-14 on the power play.
“When you aren’t getting dirty and you aren’t working hard, the rest of your
game suffers. There’s a correlation. You got to do those little things.
If you aren’t doing them overall 5-on-5, nothing says you’re going to do
them 5-on-4 or 4-on-5.”
Stirling says he knew it was only a matter of time before his team fell off
the cloud it was flying on for nearly a month.
“(The warning signs) started to come in Hershey (last week). I saw it
coming then. Usually when you’re winning, you reach a peak where you play
really well. Then the peak starts to come down, but you’re still winning.
It’s very misleading to the players.”
“I can’t go in there and rant and rave to the players when we’re winning.
They’d think I’m a lunatic.”
If the team didn’t think Stirling had what it took to express lunacy prior
to Saturday night, the players-only meeting afterwards gave them a little
appetizer of what to expect should their downswing continue. The club did
respond with a defensively sound 3-1 victory in Albany on Sunday afternoon,
but the coach knows there is more work to be done.
Stirling has been shuffling his forward lines as of late, looking for the
right combinations. Specifically, he’s looking for someone to play
alongside leading scorers Trent Hunter and Eric Manlow on the top line.
“I just got to find the right left winger, and I think (Jeremy) Adduono may
be the guy,’ says Stirling. ‘It looks like he’s got a little jump and a
little speed, which will help the line.”
Adduono, a 24-year-old native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, scored 62 goals in
three seasons with the Rochester Americans after being drafted 184th overall
by Buffalo in 1997. After not re-signing with the Sabres in the off-season,
Adduono trained in Canada during the first few months of the season, hoping
to field a contract offer from a team in need of a left winger. On December
2nd, the Sound Tigers came calling.
“He’s a pretty skilled player, says Stirling. ‘You don’t get 20 goals in
this league a couple years in a row without being a skilled guy.”
The most comical part of the weekend came during a 2nd period power play
when Rick DiPietro left his net to play the puck in the far corner of the
ice. With no Phantoms pressuring in the Bridgeport zone, DiPietro
inexplicably passed the puck in front of his own net to Sven Butenschon, who
had the puck carom off his left skate and into the vacated net.
“When you live by the sword, you’re going to die by the sword,’ said a
flustered Stirling. ‘There’s absolutely, positively no need – ever – to
pass in front of your net. Was it a fluke? Of course it was. But you
don’t put yourself in that position. I probably got most of my gray hairs a
year ago when (DiPietro) was first learning to make better decisions. Now
I’m used to it.”
The unfortunate part about the incident was that it gave Philadelphia a 2-0
lead at the time, and may have served as the turning point in the game.
“That took the starch out,’ he said afterwards. ‘I knew we were in trouble.
When you’re a defenseman or a goalie, if you handle the puck a hundred
times, the more chance there is for error. It’s all part of the learning
Unfortunately for DiPietro, such puck-handling blunders may prevent him from
getting another opportunity to display his puck-stopping talents at the NHL
MANLOW KEEPS LOW PROFILE
27-year-old Eric Manlow has made an immediate impact with the Islander
organization. After spending the majority of three seasons with the
Providence Bruins, the former ECHL journeyman has provided some much-needed
offense to the Sound Tigers.
Steve Stirling did his homework on Manlow, who was a free-agent over the
“The good news is, when we signed him, he played for Peter Laviolette and
Billy Armstrong. We talked to both of them (about Eric) more as a person
than a player. We knew he was a very good player and a quality individual.
He’s every bit that – and then some.”
As a senior member of a youthful Sound Tiger club, Manlow knows his role
goes beyond scoring points.
“I try to point the younger guys in the right direction on and off the ice,’
says the former Kitchener Ranger. ‘If I can help them that way, it’s great.
There’s a lot of guys here that are just a step away from going to the
Manlow was privileged enough to be called up to Long Island earlier in the
season when the parent team was having dreadful problems offensively,
contributing two goals and a helper in eight games. Despite the brief cup
of coffee with the Islanders, Manlow says he’s not concentrating on when, or
if, he will get recalled a second time.
“Back when I was maybe 22, I thought, ‘Well, tonight I got a goal. Maybe
I’ll get a call the next day,’’ says the Belleville, Ontario native. ‘I’m
not going on the internet every day taking a peek to see what’s going on up
top (with the Islanders). I know how things are now. I’m just doing the
best job I can here. If the opportunity comes again, I’ll try to take full
advantage of it.”
The first-place Sound Tigers look to improve upon their 36 point standing
this week when they engage on an exhausting four-game road trip deep in the
heart of Texas. Bridgeport will play San Antonio and Houston two times each
in a span of only five-nights.