The Bridgeport Sound Tigers are streaking, again. This time the Sound Tigers rode a six-game unbeaten streak, their second longest mark this season. The run gave Bridgeport second place overall in the Eastern Conference with 65 points.
Justin Mapletoft and Brent Gauvreau have made an impact to the Sound Tiger line-up during their run. The duo kept the tear going against the Albany River Rats on January 28th, the second game of the run.
Mapletoft skated in towards the faceoff circle to the left of Albany goaltender. There was just over two minutes left on the clock. Bridgeport had been trailing the River Rats since mid-way though the third, but now with 2:12 remaining, things were getting desperate for the offensively deprived Sound Tigers. With :58 seconds remaining on a four on four situation, Bridgeport coach Cronin decided to turn it into an advantage. Cronin called a time out and pulled his goalie, giving him the extra attacker. The puck dropped, Mapletoft won it. The puck went back to defenseman Brandon Smith at the right point. Smith shoots with under a minute to play. It’s deflected in traffic. The puck eventually finds its way to the corner where Gauvreau is waiting. He took his time moving up looking for an option. He decided to shoot, hitting an unprotected net as Bridgeport to tie the score.
The Sound Tigers scored on a thirty second manned advantage, but it won’t count in the power play stats since they pulled the goalie. The power play has slipped from tenth in the American Hockey League to 17th since Jeff Hamilton was injured by a high stick over a month ago.
“That’s where Hamilton comes into play. We’re too impatient without him,” said Head Coach Greg Cronin. Over an eight game stretch the Sound Tigers power play went 2 for 41. Hamilton rejoined the Sound Tigers’ lineup Wednesday against the Springfield Falcons.
Bridgeport looked within, and elsewhere, to find production in Hamilton’s absence. Two players, Mapletoft and Gauvreau, emerged for the Islanders top affiliate to spark its offense.
Gauvreau made an immediate impact in his ‘Tigers debut with the game tying goal against Albany.
“I was really impressed. The kid did a good job,” said Cronin.
Gauvreau scored 55 points, which placed him second in the East Coast Hockey League scoring, before signing a Bridgeport Professional Tryout Contract.
“I’ve been wanting to play at this level for a while, just waiting to get my chance makes it that much sweeter,” the Sudbury, Ontario native said after the game-tying goal. Gauvreau never scored an AHL point in six games spread among three stints before his stop in Bridgeport.
The 6’1” center has shown a scoring ability in the juniors. He netted 95 points in the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals in the 1998-99 season. Gauvreau finished 11th in league scoring, six points behind a teammate and eighth place finisher, Kevin Colley. The two are reunited and skated on shifts in Bridgeport.
“I’ve played with Kevin Colley two years in the past and it is a treat to play with him again,” Gauvreau said.
Last season Gauvreau scored 49 points with the ECHL’s Jackson and Augusta. This season in the ECHL, Gauvreau started for the Western Conference in the league’s All-Star game five days before signing with Bridgeport. He had an assist in the game.
“He has that Trent Hunter puck attachment skill down low. He’s got that wide body and he swivels off the checks. He’s strong on the puck,” said Cronin.
Gauvreau can also set up plays by winning draws and working on the power play.
“He’s a good faceoff guy and a smart hockey player,” added coach Cronin. He added another goal and two assists since his Bridgeport debut over two weeks ago.
Other players have signed professional tryout contracts with the team, then were released, but Gauvreau earned himself a place on the Bridgeport roster when Hamilton returns.
“He will be [around after Hamilton’s return],” said Cronin, “He’s earned the job, he’s won some critical faceoffs down the stretch.”
Mapletoft’s faceoff, who rejoined Bridgeport on January 21, set up Gauvreau’s first goal. The addition of veteran Cliff Ronning to Islanders lineup limited Mapletoft’s short fourth-line shifts. He skated about six minutes of ice time a contest.
The 22-year-old center is working himself back into shape in Bridgeport’s starting line-up.
“I don’t care what you’re doing off the ice or what you’re doing in practice. If you’re not pushing yourself at game pace, it’s no question that you tend to fall out of shape,” said Cronin.
Mapletoft has a goal and four points with a -1 rating and six penalty minutes in 27 games after being recalled to the Islanders following an eight-game scoring streak in early November. His play improved after consistent ice time during three or four game weekends.
“He’s been here eight games. I think the last four or games have been really good,” Cronin said.
Mapletoft has a goal and three assists in his last four contests.
As for Hamilton, Coach Cronin will take his recovery slowly, “We’ll see how he does at the All-Star game with his timing and vision. We’re going to run with him, hopefully he’s OK. It’s a good time for him playing in the game,” said Cronin before the All-Star Classic.
Hamilton scored a goal and had two assists in his first action in over a month at the All-Star game Monday.