Sound Tigers Coaches Optimistic

By pbadmin


A day after conducting the first official practice session for the team,
Bridgeport Sound Tigers head coach Steve Stirling took some time out
Saturday morning to meet and greet fans arriving at the Arena at Harbor Yard
to purchase tickets for the Tigers’ inaugural season.

Once at the box office, fans had the opportunity to buy team merchandise and
speak with various team representatives. But Stirling, who was an assiatant
coach with the Islanders last year, was by far the main attraction. The
former Boston University captain answered various questions from fans eager
to get the inside scoop on the team.

Prior to becoming an assistant coach on Long Island, Stirling, 51, served as
as assistant for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Lowell, Mass., for three
years. During that time, the Islanders and Los Angeles Kings had a
duel-affiliation with Lowell. The Islander brass, particularly Mike
Milbury, became very dissatisfied with the limited ice-time New York
prospects were getting in Lowell this past season, which resulted in
Milbury’s removing all Islander-owner players from the team.

Stirling believes having a primary affiliate will greatly benefit the
Islander organization.

“It’ll make a difference,’ he said. ‘The younger kids will be able to
develop because we can control their ice time.”

“Now that (the Islanders) have a primary affiliate, it will help them
because they won’t have to rush an 18-year old kid into the lineup,’ said
Sound Tiger assisstant coach Dave Baseggio, who was also at the event. ‘Now
they have the depth where they can send him down to the farm and let him
play a lot and develop.”

‘It’s going to be the best thing we’ve had for the New York Islanders
because it is close (to Long Island),’ said Stirling, noting Bridgeport’s
closeness in proximity to Uniondale. ‘Players can hop in their car and get
there. There are no transportation issues.”

While no players have officially been assigned to the Sound Tigers yet,
Stirling understands most of the 25 players he is working with in practice
this week will be in Bridgeport once the regular season begins in October.

“Most of the guys that are here know they’re going to start here. I know
they’re going to start here. It just hasn’t been made official. So if you
come over and see us (during the pre-season), what you see out there is
probably three-quarters of our team come October.”

Many players expected to start the year in Bridgeport are still competing in
Islanders camp. The Isles and Sound Tigers are expected to make their final
cuts this week. Stirling named a few of the youngsters expected to frequent
southwestern Connecticut this season.

“A guy like Torres, a guy like DiPietro, Krog, Kolnik – they’re right on the
fence. If we get them, I don’t think we’ll see them before the season
starts. Those guys are still in the hunt for a position up top.”

“I was really impressed with the talent and the depth the Islanders have,’
said Baseggio. ‘They have quite a few good players. In that matter,
Bridgeport’s going to be lucky. There are only so many that can play on
Long Island so we’re going to have some pretty good players here in

A major question mark on Long Island revolves around the goaltending
situation. According to Stirling, free-agent signee Garth Snow is expected
to have the starting job, which leaves young Rick DiPietro and Czech import
Danin Salficky to battle over the backup position. The odd man out will
more than likely see the majority of ice-time in Bridgeport.

“It’ll either be DiPietro or Salficky,’ said Stirling. ‘I wouldn’t mind
having either one of them because they’re both pretty good.”

Despite the uncertainty in goal, Stirling expects the Sound Tigers to field
a club Bridgeport fans can be proud of. Besides possibly seeing yougsters
like DiPietro and Raffi Torres, Tiger fans will be entertained by AHL
veterans like Marko Tuomainen, Ray Schultz, and Stephen Valiquette.

“I think we’ll be competitive,’ Stirling said. ‘We aren’t a really young
team, which is an advantage. We have a lot of 22 to 24 year old players
that have two to four years experience, which is good.”

While the initial reaction to the Sound Tigers in Bridgeport has been upbeat
and positive, Baseggio understands there are still many critics that do not
believe an Islander farm team will maintain a steady fan base, especially in
an area known primarily as Ranger country. However, the former fourth-round
draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres says the Islander organization is starting
to build a winning attitude that has been nonexistant in recent years.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that the Islanders have gone in a better
direction the last couple years with their new ownership group. Mike
Milbury went out this summer and picked up Alexei Yashin and Mike Peca –
that’s a commitment to winning. I think it’s going to spread through the
whole organization.”

“With the ownership group and the brand new building here in Bridgeport,
we’re committed to developing some prospects and helping the Islanders out.”