Islanders AHL prospect update

By Pat Wallace





The Bridgeport Sound Tigers top record in the American Hockey League<br />with (23-7-5-2) 53 points earned coach Greg Cronin and st


Injuries and Call-ups hit Sound Tigers hard

 

With his
team owning the league’s top record with 53 points (23-7-5-2), Bridgeport Sound
Tigers coach Greg Cronin and assistant Dave Baseggio earned spots behind the
bench for the American Hockey League 2004 All-Star game in Grand Rapids,
Michigan.  But the Sound Tigers coach
doesn’t believes he’s done anything just yet. 
“The coaching really starts now because of all the injuries we have,”
Cronin said.

 

The
injuries started on the Tigers five-game road trip in six days.  The flu spread while the team bused between
locations. It led to key scratches of captain Alan Letang, top assist getter
Eric Manlow and Cail MacLean, among others. 
Bridgeport couldn’t dress a full roster against the Norfolk Admirals last
Saturday.  Defenseman Cole Jarrett filled in as a forward in
the 2-1 loss.

The coach
remarked that the first-year Jarrett “isn’t bad up front,” after registering
two shots.

 

While some
players had the bug, others started showing symptoms.  But the first year coach wouldn’t listen to any excuses during
the team’s three game slide.

 

“I don’t
want to hear about injuries or post, or flu bug or referees.  I mean, we had a chance to win the game and
we didn’t.”

 

Adding to
Bridgeport’s woes is the injury to Jeff
Hamilton
.  The AHL’s leading scorer
took an Admiral high stick in the eye in the closing minutes of the loss.  Hamilton, who doesn’t wear a protective
visor, was taken to the hospital after the game and expected out for four to
six weeks.

“His eye
ball was hit with such force that red blood cells were scattered all over his
eyes.  It had that type of effect that
he couldn’t see,” said the coach.

 

Martin Kariya and other players visited Hamilton
in the hospital following the game.

“Anywhere
in the face is really scary, but when it gets in the eye, that’s not his hockey
career, that’s his life.  It’s a sad
thing to see, but it sounds like he’ll be back pretty soon,” said the rookie
center.

 

“Fortunately,
from the time he was injured from the time he went to the hospital, it settled
a bit,” added Cronin. 

 

The loss of
Hamilton up front leaves a void on the team’s top line and power play
unit.  The second year AHL player scored
13 power play goals, half of the team’s output.  Hamilton, who made his NHL debut in early December, has 25 goals
and 17 assists on the year.

 

The Sound
Tigers had some help from a couple of cameo appearances by Justin Mapletoft and Derek Bekar verses Hershey Bears.  The Islanders, who were off until Tuesday
night, sent the fourth line duo down to assist their beleaguered
affiliate. 

 

The pair
was two-thirds of Bridgeport’s top line, registering six shots, in the 3-1
win.  Bekar made his New York Islanders
debut in place of Islanders captain Michael Peca, who suffered a groin strain,
on January 1st against Ottawa.  Bekar
will stay on the island in place of Mark Parrish, who is out 4 to 6 weeks.  Mapletoft averages six minutes per game in
22 contests this year.  But with
injuries to the big club, the Sound Tigers have to look elsewhere for support.

 

“Maybe a
month ago when they had carried two extra forwards, they [the Islanders] could
spot them for a few home games to get them some cracks at a game.  Doesn’t look like that now,” remarked the
Tigers bench boss.

 

Bridgeport’s
top two lines have undergone changes due to injuries, but mostly recalls to the
Islanders.

 

 “You flip the calendar back to October – you
had Mapletoft, [Martin] Chabada and [Mattias] Weinhandl, that was your first
line.  Then you got Bekar, Manlow and
Hamilton – that’s a pretty good second line,” said the coach.

 

Most of the
two lines are elsewhere.  Weinhandl is
back with the Islanders.  He started
this season with Bridgeport rehabilitating his shoulder, after playing 47
contests a year ago for New York. 
Mapletoft and Bekar rejoined the big club following the Hershey
game.  Chabada returned to Czech League
after starting his second season with the Sound Tigers.

 

Cracks into
the Bridgeport line-up will either come from within their organization or from
a player(s) in another league.

 

 “You can’t replace them [injured players like
Hamilton and call-ups such as Mapletoft and Bekar] with another guy that is
capable of producing the ice time they are going to produce in a productive
way.  So, we got to scour through the
East Coast League and the Colonial League and try to identify some players that
might be able to provide us with those talents.”

 

One player
that could assume ice time in Hamilton’s absence is Kariya.

 

“I think he
was the best player on the ice the last two nights for us,” Cronin said after
the weekend set.  Kariya plays in three
situations, has improved during his the season. “In blocks of games when you
get seven to 10 [games], that’s probably the worst case scenario for him
because he’s a smaller guy,” Cronin said, “and he only played like 36 games
last year, but tonight he had a lot of energy.”  The 5’9” rookie center has 5 goals and 8 assist this season.

 

In the
meantime, the Sound Tigers are starting to return to a physical game that made
the team successful during their 22-game regulation unbeaten streak
(18-0-3-1).  “We weren’t finishing
checks like we used to do in that run we had. 
I think that for our success, we need to finish checks and wear the
[other] team down.  Then, our speed will
come into effect.  Come third period, we
should be able to capitalize on their mistakes,” centerman Kevin Colley said.

 

Another
area that Cronin stresses on improvement is on the man advantage.

 

”The power
play doesn’t generate scoring chances it has a counter productive impact on the
game.  It draws the energy out of the
guys on the bench.  ‘Geez, we can’t even
get anything in on the power play.’ And then you get tired and out of rhythm,
and it backfires,” said Cronin. The power play went 0-for-8 over the weekend,
continuing a stretch that’s seen the team go 0-for-18 in four games.

 

Yet, Cronin
believes the team strength lies in the league’s top penalty kill.  “I think our penalty killing is more of a
reflection of the blue collar that we have. 
The Colleys, the Downs the
Guites that make sacrifices to block shots.”

 

As for
Bridgeport’s early success, Cronin won’t take any credit for his team’s
achievements.

“I think
it’s a real reflection on the scouts like Kevin [Maxwell] and Kevin [Morrow] on
their ability.  When you get Wade Dubielewicz out of college, that’s
a gamble.  You take Dieter Kochan, who
is out for the season, who was really riddled with Lyme disease.  You’re not quite sure what you get and they
have been the backbone to what we accomplished to date,” said Cronin.  The goaltending has remained consistent
throughout the team’s recent stretch.  Dubielewicz
earned AHL Rookie of the Month honors with a league-leading 1.26 goals against
average with a .949 save percentage, .082 GAA and .964 save percentage in December,
and a 12-game unbeaten streak.

 

Kochan has
also been dependable, ranking third in the league with a 1.71 GAA.  He was called up to Long Island after
posting a franchise record 48 saves against Hershey on December 28th.

 

After
playing 17 contests over a 30 game span, or roughly a game every other day, the
Sound Tigers have time off before the squad faces Norfolk on the road.

 

“We don’t
play again until Saturday and that’s a blessing, a big blessing,” said Cronin.

 

And instead
of coaching at the All-Star game, Cronin had some other plans with his time off
before the announcement came on last Sunday. 
“I was hoping to get some time off to go surfing to be honest with you,
but you can’t do any surfing in Grand Rapids.”

 

NOTES:  Joining
coach Cronin and assistant coach Baseggio at the 2004 All-Star game in Grand
Rapids will be Jeff Hamilton, Wade Dubielewicz and
Brandon Smith
.  Smith, a nine-year
AHL veteran, leads all defensemen with 19 points.  Dubielewicz and Smith will play for the Canadian AHL All-Star
Team.  Hamilton was named to the
starting lineup of Planet USA, which will be coached by Cronin and
Baseggio.  Another member of the Sound
Tigers’ coaching staff will also be in attendance, goaltending coach, Billy
Smith.  Smith will be honored along with
Grant Fuhr in the All-Star festivities. The AHL honors Hockey Hall of Fame
players and their connection to its league. 
Smith
led the AHL’s Springfield Kings to a Calder Cup championship
in 1971.  He is one of 13 players to be
inducted to the Hall of Fame, and win NHL and AHL titles.