Sound Tigers - Better Than Ever

For the past few months I have had to answer the question “How are you doing without hockey?” by well-intentioned friends who honestly care. My packaged response was “I still have the Sound Tigers, Yale and Quinnipiac … plenty to keep me going.” That was a sham. (Photo by Dave Csordas)

The AHL is a developmental league, and without the NHL the entire experience was lacking. Getting to know and talk to the players before they are called-up and talking to them after they are sent back is a unique gift regular followers of AHL teams enjoy.

With the NHL in a lockout, that important part of the AHL experience was gone and missed. Hockey wasn’t the same. But the NHL is back and hockey is once again whole. Some five or six Sound Tigers will be called-up in the next few days to begin the abbreviated 2012 -2013 season. Others will be called as needed over the next few months.

My friends are now asking me “How are the Sound Tigers going to be after they lose all those players to the Islanders?” My honest response is “They are a better team now than the club that started the season.”

The Tigers enjoyed some success early in the season. Often out-shot and sometimes out-played, the bounces came their way and valuable points were gained.

There were some very pleasant surprises as well: Brock Nelson was playing beyond expectations; Nino Niederreiter was playing with a new found confidence to match his skill set; and Johan Sundstrom was making a seamless transition to the smaller North American ice surface and the physical game that comes with it.

There were also disappointments. The defense, on paper one of the league's best with Hamonic, de Haan, Donovan, Ness and Wishart was difficult to watch on too many occasions. Lousy defense led to soft goals and frustrated both Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin in net.

In seven games the Sound Tigers gave up five or more goals. Still out-shot and too often out-hustled, the club went on an eight game losing streak with pucks taking bad bounces and valuable points being lost.

And then the club became a team. Whether it was the natural bonding of being hurricane Sandy survivors, the time spent together on the road trip to Norfolk or the private time they spent together handling the grief of Sandy Hook, they were playing as a team and playing well.

In the eight games since the Norfolk trip the team is 5-3 with each loss a one-goal decision. The Sound Tigers now sit in second place behind Springfield in their division and sixth place in a very tight conference race. (They were last in each category at the start of last season.) Photo: Csordas

Three or four forwards are apt to be called to training camp (Jan.13?), an equal number of defensemen and at least one goal tender will probably also get a look. Five or six will not return to Webster Bank Arena for the second half of the season and will need to be replaced.

Someone else will get Nino’s top line minutes and produce. The team will probably be short a Swede (or two) but the line that replaces the UPS line will deliver. This is a team now and parts can be interchanged.

Donovan and Ness may no longer need their lockers in Bridgeport but kids like Brenden Kichton and others will be here to defend the Northeast Division Championship banner. This is Sound Tigers Hockey, this is hockey as it should be, this is the AHL.

-Mike Flannery

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