Bridgeport's Backman Playing Big
The Sound Tigers are enjoying a six-day rest in their schedule after capturing five of the six points available this past weekend. It could easily have been six-of-six were it not for a shootout loss to the Providence Bruins in a game the Tigers dominated for most of the night.
Ty Wishart scored both of Bridgeport’s only two goals that game and goalie Kevin Poulin made his typical half dozen or so highlight-worthy saves, but it was all for naught in the bonus round. Poulin stopped each of the first four shots he faced but could not stop the Whales’ Carter Camper when he slowed his approach and played with the puck until he saw an opening. (Yes, the AHL takes a bad idea, i.e.. ‘the shoot out’, and prolongs the pain for five rounds).
Friday’s away game in Hartford began what fans hope to be the beginning of a long streak. Down by two goals early, the team fought back for a tie with goals by Matt Watkins and Blair Riley. Down 3-2 the team responded once again when Jack Combs netted his third goal in just ten games with the club.
The Sound Tigers would fall behind again with 26 seconds left in the middle period when the Whale scored a power play goal while Nino Niederreiter was serving the teams ‘too many men on the ice’ penalty. John Persson tied the game in the final period scoring his fifteenth of the season on Bridgeport’s second and final power play opportunity of the night, setting the stage for Backman’s late game heroics.(Backman/Photo:Pope SteveXXVII).
Backman’s game has improved noticeably over the past two months or so. In the past his time was spent between the hashmarks waiting for an outlet pass where his Grabner-like speed offered scoring opportunities. He also tended to avoid the dirty areas of the ice, but no longer.
Asked to move to center after call-ups (Cizikas) and injuries (Watkins and Sundstrom) left the team short handed in the middle, his game and grit have grown. He and Combs have both been sharing time filling the hole, as CT Post’s Mike Fornabaio reported, but the change has made Backman a more complete and competitive player and a pleasure to watch.
The win streak started on Saturday (it takes two to make a streak) when the Sound Tigers defeated the visiting Norfolk Admirals 4-1 in a very painful game to watch. Referee Jon McIsaac blew the whistle 13 times totally disrupting the flow and speed of the game we all love, but it was a Sound Tiger that caused the most pain.
Brock Nelson scored his first professional hat trick on an empty-netter late, causing me to toss my prized Atlanta Falcons hat over the boards in response. Congrats Mr. Nelson on your first ‘hatty’, (Nelson/Photo: Pope Steve XXVII)
Were it not for Niederreiter's presence on the roster and a broken jaw that forced Nelson to miss several games (and use a sippy-cup for nutrition), Nelson would likely lead the Sound Tigers in most offensive categories. As it is the 6' 3" left-handed shot sits in second place with 14 goals and 14 assists in 35 games played (nine fewer than Niederreitter).
Nelson's seamless transition to the AHL's 76 game schedule and the physical play required to succeed as a pro, prove he is ready for the next step. This summers' Islander training camp promises to be epic.
Maybe next year for Atlanta … maybe this year for Bridgeport ... perhaps soon for Backman and Nelson ... but definitely soon for the Islanders.
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