Bridgeport On The Bubble At The Break
Just ten games ago the Bridgeport Sound Tigers faced the Springfield Falcons at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield with a chance to tie them for first place in the division. Outshot 32 to 20 the Tigers suffered a hard fought 5 to 4 loss.
With 8 losses in the last 10 games played Bridgeport now sits 14 points behind the division leading Falcons in twelfth place overall where only the top 8 teams make the post-season. With 34 games remaining there is time to make a run and that time is now. (Ness - photog: Dave Csordas)
Last years Manchester Monarchs were the final team to make the playoffs with 83 points in a 76 game season. The Sound Tigers now have 42 points in 42 games, a pace that will end their season early if they don’t accept the challenge.
The challenge begins tomorrow evening when the team plays the first game of their only Thursday-Friday-Saturday three-in-three of the season against an always tough Providence Bruins squad at the Webster Bank Arena. On Saturday the team faces in-state rival Hartford in their house before returning home for a contest against the Norfolk Admirals who delivered the Sound Tigers their last two defeats.
The late start of the NHL season resulted in the call-up of over 170 players from the AHL resulting in line changes and roster shuffles across the league. Bridgeport is trying to rediscover its’ identity and re-establish line chemistry like everyone else.
While Nino Niederreiter garnered much of the attention of the local media, many egos were bruised by the call-ups and several players privately questioned decisions made. And then the Isles started claiming players being placed on waivers.
When the Islanders claimed Joe Finley off of waivers Ty Wishart, who had made the call to camp, was sent back to Bridgeport. I ran into Ty on his trip back to Milford and he described the move as ‘a kick in the nuts’.
When I asked about the Isles more recent acquisition, Thomas Hickey, his eyes lit up and his ever-present smile widened. “I didn't hear about that one, ‘Hicks’ is a great guy, played with him in juniors” was his response. Bruised ego behind him Wishart played what I thought was the best sixty minutes of hockey he has ever played as a Tiger on Jan. 19 in the teams’ last win a 4-2 victory over the Binghamton Senators. (Wishart - Photog: Pope Steve XXVII).
Quietly consistent throughout all that has gone on this year is Aaron Ness. Without a doubt the fastest of Bridgeport’s blue-liners Ness is probably the most cerebral of any on the team and his vision and hockey sense are above reproach.
Perhaps over-looked because of his size, 5’10” and 170 pounds, the Isles 2nd round pick in the 2008 draft continues to impress as he has since high school when he was named Minnesota’s ‘Mr. Hockey’. Ness along with Jon Persson and Blair Riley are the only players who have played in each of the teams first 42 games (although a stick to the face cost him a couple of teeth and forced him to wear the ‘bubble mask’ recently).
Selected in the sixth round of the same 2008 draft, again by the Islanders, was another smallish defender (5’8’,175 lbs.) Jared Spurgeon who has already established himself as an NHL’er with the Minnesota Wild. It’s more often than not a matter of being in the right place at the right time that gets your career a jump-start but it is the consistent effort given every shift that gets rewarded.
The Islanders talent at the blue line is growing and developing quickly. Ness, Landry, Donovan and Wishart are already capable of making an impact and will likely get a chance in the NHL this shortened season. It will be their play at that the blue-line in Bridgeport that will likely determine the success of this years team.
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