When the regular season had ended, it was time for the New York Islanders and Bridgeport Sound Tigers seasons in review. Obviously doing the Islanders was a little easier for me, but since starting the Bridge Report and going to the press box later on in the season for Bridgeport, doing a full season review of the Sound Tigers, I felt, would’ve been incomplete. After the experience of the Islanders Booster Club, I wanted to get the fans of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers view of the season, so I made the trip once again and I was a guest speaker at one of their meetings. I was hoping for the same enthusiasm and knowledge from the Island. I got that and then some.
Before the meeting I was invited to dinner by the Club’s President Debbie Lietuvninkas, better known as Mama Tiger, a nickname given to her by Sound Tigers Tyler Haskins and Aaron Ness. After meeting with and getting to know her, she takes the name very seriously and passionately. There isn’t anywhere she won’t go where current or former players won’t recognize her. She told me that one time, when she was in Tampa, former Sound Tiger Sean Bergenheim (who was with the Lightning that season) recognized her immediately after she called out to him, with a big smile on his face and immediately said “Bridgeport! Good times!!!”.
There were a few other fans that I had met at dinner and while I was trying to listen to some of them, I knew an “initiation” of sorts needed to happen. You see, I’m still just a blogger, so of course I needed to be tested on my hockey knowledge or even if I could have a hockey conversation with anyone. Cue in Debbie’s husband, Ray. I’m telling you now, he’s the younger Stan Fischler of the Sound Tigers and a long time Islanders fan. If were just us, we would’ve have been there all night talking hockey and I would’ve paid for the bill. That alone made the trip worth it. It just trickled down from fan to fan as to how much they knew and how badly they wanted to see their teams win, not only the Sound Tigers, but the Islanders as well.
So what makes the Sound Tigers Booster Club special? One word: Family. When new coaches/players come to Bridgeport, the Club fills up a welcome bag with information, coupons, and anything else that will help them in finding places they may need while living in and around Bridgeport. You see the players are out on their own for the first time as a professional and are quickly “adopted” by Mama Tiger and the Booster Club. For example, when the team has to go on the road, the Club supplies them with food for the long bus rides.
They have a couple of dances and other outings where players and fans meet, so there is quite a one on one interaction going on. After Sound Tigers games, they usually have one or two Sound Tigers come in and do a quick Q & A with the fans. The interacting and family closeness is so intense that even when tragedy hits, it hits the whole team. When Booster Club member and huge Sound Tiger/Islanders fan Emily Yish (someone I had the pleasure of meeting) passed away suddenly at a very young age, Debbie was telling me that Sound Tigers goalie Kenny Reiter came up to give her a card for the family and he couldn’t keep his head up. When you’re here, you’re family.
The Booster Club is not just about helping the players and coaches. They have donated over $150,000 in the last eleven years to special charitable organizations such as Ronald McDonald House, PT Barnum Pediatric Center, the Umbrella Group, Make a Wish Foundation, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society, Special Olympics, CdL Foundation, Community Closet, and the New York Islanders Children’s Foundation. This past season alone, they raised over $3,000 and made a contribution to the Sandy Hook Memorial Fund for the victims and their families in Newtown. They also support the Siberian Tigers at the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport.
I found all this out at the meeting, and with the discussions that were going into hours of the meeting, Debbie needed to cut us off so that they could continue with the other necessary agendas that needed to be completed. I of course stayed longer in case anyone wanted to continue or finish up the topics. I was reminded of the Sunday meet-ups at Webster Bank Arena and that when I’m in the press box to make sure I make an appearance. After everyone had left, it was just Ray, Debbie and myself. We said our goodbyes and I thanked them for the phenomenal experience and Debbie gave me a goodbye kiss, knowing full well I had just been adopted and now apart of the family.
If you’re an Islanders fans living in Connecticut, or living on Long Island and you go to see the Sound Tigers more than 2 games a year, it’s worth the time and money to become a member. You’ll get to know some really knowledgeable Isles/Tigers fans and you’ll probably get to meet a few players along the way before you see them on Long Island. But most important, you’ll get a family you never knew you had. The next scheduled event is on June 17th 7:00pm, at the Sports Center in Shelton, Connecticut so join them for some moonlight bowling. For more info go to Soundtigerboosters.com
If you really want to know what it means to be a member, here it is:
“Though what is deeper and more long lasting is the fact that we had a chance to get to know these players as human beings who, as the case with almost every one of them, is a character individual who endeared themselves to us beyond the game they play and the sport we love” Ray Lietuvninkas