While the New York Islanders keep the hockey world scratching its head, the team’s minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, have gone forward in establishing an all-around solid team. A stellar 2005-06 season saw them claw their way into the playoffs, only to be bounced out in a tightly-contested seven-game series against rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The intense series featured a stunning three overtime games.
Most of the players are back again this year, making Bridgeport a serious contender for the Calder Cup. The Islanders have brought in a plethora of seasoned veterans to fill some holes in their roster, limiting the chances of any potential call-ups. No one in Bridgeport will be complaining about being stuck with this talented group of kids.
Although Islanders coach Ted Nolan is refusing to name a back-up behind starting goalie and face of the organization, Rick DiPietro, it’s a safe bet that by the time the puck drops on opening night, veteran experience will outweigh all else and camp invitee Mike Dunham, or a quality goalie picked up off waivers, will be given the spot. Goalies Wade Dubielewicz, Chris Madden and Mike Mole will be sent to the AHL with Dubielewicz and Mole the likely duo playing for Bridgeport.
This is particularly disappointing for Mole, who has had a superb camp thus far and has come to challenge Dubielewicz on the organization’s depth chart. We should see the two battling it out for the starting position at the beginning of Bridgeport’s season, though Dubielewicz has the inside track on the starting role for the Sound Tigers once again. Don’t be surprised if and when Mole, who last season played for Phoenix of the ECHL, is given a shot, he goes on a hot streak and challenges to take over the No. 1 spot. He has shown a willingness to learn, grow and adapt his style of play, making him a great addition to the organization.
Madden and last year’s back-up, Frederic Cloutier, may get lost in the shuffle as Dubielewicz and Mole battle it out. Madden started out with the team last season, posting a 7-6 record, but missed a majority of the season due to a knee injury, at which point Cloutier stepped in. The chances of either goalie making it onto the roster depends upon whom the Islanders call up and if there are any injuries.
There’s a battle going on for the final defensive spot on the Islanders roster. Unfortunately, it looks like veteran Rick Berry won’t be part of that competition as he is likely heading to Bridgeport. The final spot on the Islanders roster has come down to (surprisingly) Radek Martinek, Bruno Gervais and Joel Bouchard. Rumor has it that Gervais is playing far better than the other two and is the favorite to land this coveted spot on the team. However, the team is clearly more comfortable with veterans in the lineup so don’t be surprised if Gervais starts the season in a Sound Tigers jersey. Either which way, two out of these three will be sent to Bridgeport, adding some serious depth to the Sound Tigers’ blue line.
Ryan Caldwell, the Islanders’ seemingly long-term prospect, will return for his third season in the AHL. It’s unfortunate that the Islanders have yet to give him a chance to prove himself but he’s sure to be a leader and a cornerstone for the Sound Tigers this season.
Bryan Rodney will also lace them up for Bridgeport this season. He’s an offensively-gifted defenseman who has fallen to the back of the pack among the rest of the players and will head down to the AHL where he’s already seen eight games with the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Heading over for at least the start of the season will be prospect sensations Petteri Nokelainen and Robert Nilsson. Reports out of camp are that Nilsson has been soft on the puck and has yet to wow anyone with his play. In fact, his main competition, Jeff Tambellini, has done the complete opposite, impressing the coaching staff with his hard work, speed, and ability to bury the puck no matter who they put in net.
However, come the end of the day, Nilsson is just too good for the AHL. His stint will, in all likelihood, be brief and act more as a wake-up call. But don’t be surprised to see this young superstar in a Sound Tigers uniform at the beginning of the season.
Nokelainen must deal with the unfortunate side effects of a club desperate to win. With the signings of well-traveled forwards Viktor Kozlov and Mike Sillinger, the Islanders don’t have the room to keep him at present. While he’s played well in camp, it hasn’t been enough to stick. Much like Nilsson, Nokelainen is too talented to be kept up in the NHL only as an extra forward. The Islanders will send him to Bridgeport where he’ll surely land a first or second line spot.
The surprise of the camp has been Brandon Cullen, who’s played the better part of the last four seasons with Charlotte of the ECHL. Coach Nolan has been impressed with Cullen’s hustle and has given the youngster extended time in camp as a reward. With continued hard work and an already well-established reputation amongst the coaching staff, Cullen may not be in Bridgeport for too long.
Also reassigned are forwards Jeremy Colliton and Blake Comeau. These two are well-respected among the coaching staff and stand at the top of the list for being called up.
In regards to veterans on the Bridgeport roster, twins Chris and Peter Ferraro are worth noting. They’ll land spots with the Sound Tigers and provide some much-needed leadership on an otherwise very young team. Also signed to help lead the way are Jason Guerriero and Kevin Mitchell, who will pair up with some of the younger stars and help them develop into the deeply talented, very well-rounded team they are expected to be this season.
The only thing that could possibly hinder the continuity of the Sound Tigers is Isles owner Charles Wang’s desire for success. He’s made it clear that sub-par performances will not be tolerated. If the Islanders begin to falter in the standings, expect many players from Bridgeport to be picked up and brought across the Sound.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.