Some would like to call themselves a cautious optimist when it comes to being an AHL fan, you never know what could happen with players being promoted, but if there were a description of a Bridgeport Sound Tigers fan, it’s this perfect quote from Mike Cresiski:
A fan that knows the ins and outs of hockey, loves to see kids develop into NHL players and enjoys the close interaction with the team.
However, this year only one word really stood out in describing the team: Frustration.
Because I had only been covering the Sound Tigers for most of the second half of the season, I needed more feedback of information in order to properly give my yearly review, so I looked no further than the fans of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Booster Club. Because of my phenomenal experience with the Islanders Booster, I was hoping for the same flood of great information from the Bridgeport fans and I wasn’t disappointed. It took a little bit of time, but as they got into the discussion, there was no stopping them. The can of worms came out.
It Starts At The Top:
Islanders fans know that there were a lot of rookies playing this year on the Island. Having quite a few rookies is nothing new to Bridgeport fans, but not having enough veteran AHL talent on this team to make them more competitive and allow a winning attitude to develop was a big deal to these fans and there was only one person who they could point their finger at. Every fan knows who: Islanders General Manager Garth Snow. Like Islanders fans, Bridgeport doesn’t like that upper management is not spending money for players to help them win now. They believe that if spending had been done and having a veteran presence in the line up that the team would have faired better than the 28-40-3-6 (good for 64 points in 76 games) they had ended up with, even with all the call ups. In my opinion, they’d be correct.
The Coach: “Frustration is a waste of time.”
During one of my final games in the press box for Bridgeport, I was able to get former Sound Tigers Head Coach Scott Pellerin thoughts about this past season. It was really a double edged sword. He was very happy to see that his players who were sent up make a positive contribution to the Islanders because that’s his job, to get these kids ready for Jack and to his credit they looked good in the NHL, but the flip side to that is the team was now younger and less experienced and the Sound Tigers were going head to head with deeper, talented teams and were just flat out losing, even the close games. The toughest part of all that losing was using a line that someone told him that “Frustration is a waste of time” so he had to quickly turn the page and continue to be positive during the toughest stretch of the final 20 games.
As far as the fans were concerned, he was either not the right coach for the job or there was just too much of a “rotating circus” for anyone to handle. Again, adding more of a veteran presence may have helped, but when you have that many players moving up or down in the organization, winning gets tough. Brining back former bench boss Brent Thompson was a big highlight in everyone’s eyes. They certainly prefer him over Pellerin, so they’ll see if he can turn this new crop of defenseman and young players into winners.
It’s harder to grade players in the AHL because you’re looking for growth in development. Many saw that this year in Ryan Strome, but from the info I got, some are mixed as to whether Strome was brought up too early. He is a shooter and certainly has a goal scorers touch, but he needs to get a little dirtier, some more grit to his game, but many do feel that sending him down before the Olympic Break was a great move because when he returned to the Islanders, they noticed that his game was more consistent than the first go around. I tend to agree with that assessment and with a good offseason, he should be ready for the NHL full time next year.
Anders Lee appeared to be the favorite as he had grit, a no nonsense demeanor and to their surprise a scorers touch. They liked the fact that he would take on any opponent at any time. With Lee impressing on the Island, he should be fun to watch for a full season with the Islanders.
If there was a fan favorite for defenseman it was Scott Mayfield. I was asked about my thoughts on him and I just said he was going to be a beast and you could see the grins get wider as I said it. They all agreed he still needs time in the AHL to mature, but when he’s ready, he will be a steady force in the back end.
Talk about a tender subject. I only brought up Anders Nilsson once when I mentioned that other Isles fans were complaining about how big he was yet the offense were getting goals by scoring over his shoulder and under the crossbar. The look I got was “Sorry we didn’t warn you, but we should’ve.” There were some fans who thought he played well, but most already knew he’s headed for Europe next season, so it was more of a closing of a chapter there. Fans were very upset, and this is mostly directed at Pellerin, that Kenny Reiter was not used during the last 20 or so games and that you could see the frustration in his face when fans asked “What’s up?” Some also thought Kevin Poulin was not used well as he appeared to be the scape goat for the woes of the year. Some pointed out that had the team scored more, the less time in his zone and better results could occur, whereas few thought his attitude (deserved or not) was not a good fit with such a young team and would have preferred Reiter in net more.
What Kind Of Change Is Needed?
For one, a new coach certainly helped their spirits. Thompson has already proved he can win in the AHL with young players and will have his team ready when any game starts. Second, they believe a new captain should be named and someone who’s been with the organization, especially when they made the playoffs two years ago under Thompson. The player that came to my mind was Aaron Ness. Most took to liking that idea and thought it was a decent choice and it would make sense. He’s been there the longest and to their point, you need AHL veteran leadership to help the younger ones develop that winning attitude and development. Now I have stated in the past he might go to another AHL team should the Isles not qualify his rights or he declines and goes to Europe, but if they were to present him with the “C” it could be enough for him to stay. Lastly, stability is a form of change for this team. Bring back the rookies, maybe sign another vet or two, but no more rotating circus. A healthy season from both clubs will do wonders for this organization.
My Take: The high point for some of these fans was the Matt Martin Bobble Head Day. That’s how frustrating a year it has been for them. Their modest winning streak in February and of course the graduation of some of the players like de Haan, Strome and Lee is what they’re most proud of. They take pride in their team like Islanders fans do and the players they each represent, but like many, would like to see some winning sooner rather than later and certainly more stability in players next season. The coaching was handled but goaltending must be fixed. Of course they are just as concerned about ownership as the next Isles fan as they share the same beliefs.
Had the regular players stayed this season, their record would have been much better, certainly a wining one. The final 20 games resulted in promotions of top players and demotions of some for the ECHL playoffs. Then you have signings of European, Junior and College players all coming together and trying out for a spot on next years roster. Kind of tough for any one goalie or coach to win games and making this frustrating season one to quickly forget for any fan.
I would personally like to thank the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Booster Club for inviting me and allowing me to do the interview or “Venting Session” along with the emails I have received, but the knowledge and hospitality of this group was impeccable and first class all the way. I hope to see them all at a Sound Tigers game soon.