The Bridgeport Sound Tigers will feature a younger lineup in their season opener Saturday night at the Arena at Harbor Yard. The National Hockey League lockout shuffled some familiar faces from last season’s playoff team. The Sound Tigers lost eight veterans, including Alan Letang and Jeff Hamilton. Hamilton, the American League’s top scorer last season, signed with the Hartford Wolf Pack this Monday, while Letang, the first captain in Sound Tigers history, signed with Germany’s Hamburg Freezers this summer.
The Sound Tigers filled some veteran roles this offseason with Keith Aldridge and Jim Campbell. Jim Campbell, a 31-year-old winger, spent last season with the Chicago Wolves and Russia’s Nizhnekamsk. Aldridge, another veteran defenseman, assumes the captain’s role. He played the last four seasons in Germany. Jody Robinson and Ryan Kraft were named assistant captains this week. Robinson, who signed an NHL contract this summer, enters his third year in Bridgeport, while Kraft starts his second year as an alternate captain.
Ten younger players enter Bridgeport’s locker room. The NHL lockout sends four forwards from the 2003 Islanders third and fourth lines. Meanwhile, five others, who arrive from the junior and collegiate ranks, will see their first professional action.
Head coach Greg Cronin left training camp with four lines drawn up. Center Kevin Colley was skating between Barrett Heinsen and Matt Koalska. Heinsen joined the Sound Tigers as a free agent in August, and was originally drafted by the Buffalo Sabres 20th overall in 1999. Heinsen is a physical winger with a left-handed shot. He scored 14 goals and added 23 assists in two seasons with the Utah Grizzles.
The Predators released Koalska this summer after Nashville selected him four years ago in the fifth round. Koalska graduated with 136 career points in May from the University of Minnesota. Koalska, a four-year starter, was the Golden Gophers’ top center in his last two seasons. He was third in team scoring with 39 points last year and his 26 assists led the squad.
The kinks are being worked out on the second line, which featured four skaters –- Graham Belak, Steve Regier, John Morlang and Ryan Kraft. The Islanders picked up Regier late at the 2004 Draft in Carolina. The 20-year-old winger finished seventh in scoring with 60 points for Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers.
Sean Bergenheim, Justin Mapletoft and Eric Godard comprise the third line, all of whom divided time between two clubs last year. Bergenheim will start his first season in the American League after splitting time between the Islanders fourth line and Finland’s Jokerit Helsinki. Bergenheim joined the Sound Tigers in their seven game playoff run. He had a goal and an assist with New York and two goals and two assists in the Finland.
Mapletoft split time with the Islanders and their top affiliate. The 21-year-old center had five points in limited duty on the island, while he 23 points in 36 matches for Bridgeport.
Godard amassed 97 penalty minutes with an assist in 31 contests for the Islanders. He played seven games with 13 penalty minutes in Bridgeport.
The fourth unit’s prospect is Justin Papineau, who tallied 13 points on the fourth line in 64 games in the 2003-04 NHL season.
The Sound Tigers have three prospects on defense. Ryan Caldwell comes to Bridgeport after captaining the University of Denver to an NCAA championship last spring. Caldwell had with 5 goals, 14 assists and 19 points and a team high +18.
Bruno Gervais joins Bridgeport after nearly making the Islanders out of training camp at 18. Gervais rejoined the Acadie-Bathurst Titans in the Quebec juniors for 23 games last season. Gervais’ last chance to play for Team Canada’s junior team – and his year – was cut short by a knee injury. He was the only defenseman from the Quebec Major junior Hockey League invited to camp.
Cole Jarrett enters his second year in Bridgeport. Jarrett split time between defense and wing positions. He collected 16 points in 59 contests in 2003-04.
Wade Dubielewicz and Dieter Kochan return to the net for the Sound Tigers. The dual won the Happy “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award for 2003-04 season for allowing the fewest goals in the regular season. Their 140 goals against broke the AHL record for an 80-game season (176). Thirty-year-old Kochan and 25-year-old Dubielewicz each had 20 wins in the regular season.
Dubielewicz also won the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award as the 2003-04 AHL Rookie of the Year. Dubielewicz finished the regular season leading the league with a 1.38 goals against average and .946 save percentage.
Bridgeport opens October 16th at home against Albany.
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