Let the Good Times Roll

By Joe Tasca

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers are officially on a roll.

Despite being ravaged by call-ups, injuries, and a lack of organizational
depth, head coach Steve Sterling has been able to put together a patchwork
lineup that is having great success. The Sound Tigers won their first two
games after the All-Star break this past weekend, and are in the midst of a
five-game winning streak.

Bridgeport’s first test came on Friday against interstate rival Hartford.
After giving up two goals in the first six minutes of action, the Sound
Tigers scored three consecutive goals to notch the win. The culmination
came at the 1:24 mark of overtime when Yale graduate Jeff Hamilton deposited
a Daniel Tzachuk rebound past Wolf Pack goaltender Jason LaBarbera.

“We knew we were going to be rusty,’ said Sterling after the game. ‘We
talked about it before we went out. We were a little slow and sloppy in the
defensive zone. But we settled down.”

Earlier in the season, Sterling had used Hamilton sparingly during the
latter part of close games because of his defensive liabilities. However,
the former Providence College headmaster says the miniature Hamilton has
drastically improved his overall game recently, enabling Sterling to use him
in an overtime situation.

“He’s actually played really well the last five or six games,’ says
Sterling. ‘I think he’s finally getting it. He knows he’s got to skate and
work with and without the puck. I don’t hesitate anymore to put him out
there late in a game because he’s really improved in all three zones.”

Former Rochester American Jeremy Adduono was the sparkplug for Bridgeport
over the weekend. The 24-year-old left winger scored the first goal in both
games over the weekend, both well-executed power-play deflections of point
shots. After scoring only five goals in 24 games since being signed to a
contract a few months ago, Adduono is now on a three-game goal streak.

“There’s some jump in his step, and that’s part of his game,’ says Sterling.
‘He’s got some quickness and now he’s being rewarded. He been in and
around the net, making good plays.”

Ukrainian winger Konstantin Kalmikov has also tallied in three straight
contests. Not known for his goal-scoring, the former Sudbury Wolf has been
given significantly more ice time in the absence of players like Weinhandl,
Torres, and Godard, and he’s taking advantage of it. Sterling says the key
to success for Kalmikov is consistency.

“Just when you think Kalmy’s got it going like you saw tonight, he doesn’t
sustain it,’ says the coach. ‘I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself.
He’s had a chance the last handful of games to take a regular shift, and
he’s starting to sustain it, and that’s a good sign. He’s starting to go
out there and have fun.”

Despite the emergence of younger players like Hamtilton, Adduono, and
Kalmikov, the fact remains the Sound Tigers still rely heavily on their
veteran players. Nine-year veteran Eric Manlow has been the stabilizing
force for the club all season long, combining his leadership ability with a
bonafide scoring touch. Manlow has scored a goal and seven assists during
Bridgeport’s five-game winning streak, but Steve Sterling knows the
Kitchener native brings many more intangibles to the table.

“When Manny’s anywhere close to his game, as a coach you never have to worry
about him in all three zones,’ says Sterling. ‘He just knows where to go
and what to do. He’s never going to make a stupid play. He’s just so
reliable and responsible. That’s one of the reasons we signed him. He’s
not going to get you 30 goals or 100 points, but he’s going to be a real
good, steady, responsible two-way forward.”

Sterling made it very clear following Bridgeport’s 5-3 victory over Saint
John on Saturday that Manlow has been a positive influence on linemate Trent
Hunter, noting that the two have been playing together since the opening
game of the season. Subsequently, Hunter is leading the team with 40 points
(19-21), while is second Manlow with 34 (14-20).

Some so-called experts throughout the hockey world have claimed Hunter
should have more of a physical presence on the ice. At 6’4”, Hunter is one
of the taller players on the team, but Steve Sterling doesn’t think the Red
Deer, Alberta native has what it takes to be a power forward.

“He’s too skilled to be a power guy,’ says Sterling. ‘His body isn’t made
up to be powerful. If he were only 6’1” we wouldn’t be having this
conversation. When you have his hands and his head, we want him scoring
goals and making plays. So does the big club.”

TIME AIN’T ON MY SIDE


With Rick DiPietro on recall to Long Island and Steve Valiquette shelved for
a few weeks with a broken foot, the Sound Tigers have had to rely on two
young goalkeepers to man the pipes in recent weeks. 22-year-old Islander
prospect David St. Germain and Scott Sterling, the son of head coach Steve
Sterling, have played extremely well, each posting save percentages of over
.90. Sterling, who is not Islander property, was called up from Atlantic
City of the ECHL a few weeks back after winning Most Valuable Player honors
in the East Coast League’s All-Star game. He has performed admirably,
picking up wins in all four of his starts.

“I don’t know how long I’m going to get up here. They may send me (back to
Atlantic City) tomorrow for all I know,’ said Sterling jokingly following
last Friday’s win over Worcester. ‘I’m just here to contribute.”

Scott Sterling may have remained with the Sound Tigers through this weekend,
but head coach and father Steve is going to have to send down either St.
Germain or his son by this weekend, as Steve Valiquette is expected to
return to action this Friday when the Sound Tigers visit Providence.

“That was the timetable all along,’ says Sterling. ‘If the two young kids
were struggling, I might have pulled the trigger reluctantly and played
Vally (this weekend). But the two young kids are holding the fort. We’ll
get Vally ready for next weekend.”

Steve Sterling says he expects to have Rick DiPietro back in time for a
rematch with Hartford on February 21st. It expected that the goaltender
that survives the initial cut once Valiquette returns – be it son Scott or
St. Germain – will be returned to his ECHL team at that time.

WELCOME TO THE AHL


On Friday night, J.F. Caudron was playing in Atlantic City. After his game
that night, the St. Hubert, Quebec native was informed that his services
were required elsewhere.

“I hadn’t seen him play,’ says Sterling. ‘But you’ve got to rely on the
people you know and your contacts. I was in a pinch. I called (Atlantic
City) and said I was looking for a skilled forward. He’s targeted to get 40
goals in the Coast, which is big-time. You don’t do that without any kind
of talent.”

Caudron wasted little time exhibiting his talent to the patrons in
Bridgeport on Saturday, scoring on his first American Hockey League shot on
goal, roofing a wrist shot over the glove of Flames goaltender and fellow
Quebecor Dany Sabourin.

Sterling says he knew Caudron was going to provide some energy to the
lineup.

“He came up excited. I thought he was going to jump through the phone when
I called him. You know you’re going to get something out of him when you
have that kind of excitement.”

IT’S ALIVE


Something that has plagued the Sound Tigers all season long is the team’s
ineptness with the man advantage. Coming into the weekend, Bridgeport had
converted a mere 13% of its power plays, good for 25th in the league.
However, after scoring three power play goals in Saturday’s win over Saint
John, the Sound Tigers have now scored power play goals in four consecutive
games, going 7 for 22 in that span.

“The power play’s coming along better,’ says the coach. ‘When things aren’t
going well, there’s no substitute for throwing pucks at the net. Sooner or
later, it’ll hit somebody and go in the net. Sometimes that’s all you need
to get going.”

Sterling was particularly pleased with the fact that Bridgeport had five
different goal scorers on Saturday.

“We’re getting some balanced scoring,’ he said afterwards. ‘The last few
games, we’ve worked really hard for some of our goals.”

WHAT’S NEXT


The Sound Tigers begin a stretch of four games in five nights this weekend
when they visit the North Division-leading Providence Bruins on Friday.

“It’ll be a real good test for us, in their building,’ says Sterling.
‘They’re easily among the top five teams in the league.”

Bridgeport will then trek to Springfield for a Saturday game before heading
back to the cozy confines of the Arena at Harbor Yard for two games with the
expansion San Antonio Rampage. The Sunday and Tuesday tilts will be the
first ever between the two teams.