I am going to start off by saying that this is not another Rick DiPietro blog. We all know the story; he will continue to be part of the New York Islanders' plans as long as he is physically able to wear goalie pads and the organization will continue to support him to the very end of this long, exhausting road to recovery. However, there are two goaltending prospects that are going to be competing hard for the back-up position behind Evgeni Nabokov, who is the clear cut starter for the 2013 season.
Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson were sharing time with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL for most of the 2012 year with the exception of some short-lived NHL time with the Isles. In 49 games played, Poulin went 26-18-4 with a 2.79 GAA with a .912 save percentage. His partner Nilsson was 15-8-2 in 25 games played and sported a 2.42 GAA with a .921 save percentage. Nilsson, who is a padded giant at 6'5, is still getting adjusted to the professional game and learning how to play on a smaller rink after being more accustomed to the Swedish Elite League. Poulin has now spent close to two full years developing with the Islanders and looks like he might be the most ready to make it to the NHL.
Today Blair Riley signed his first NHL contract with the New York Islanders. One hundred days after he signed an AHL contract with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Riley one of the first call-ups made by coach Thompson’s first last season. Blair got his call (a PTO – Professional Try-Out) while playing for the Chicago Express in the ECHL on Nov. 25 when BST forward Trevor Frischmon was out injured. He had already impressed coach ‘Tommer’ with his play while with the Las Vegas Wranglers, particularly in the 2010-11 Kelly Cup playoffs with his 4 goals and an assist in five games played.
He made an immediate impression on the fans at the Webster Bank Arena when he dropped his gloves early in his first home game (and the Tigers first in their new third jerseys) at a point in the season where the team just could not buy a win. Riley did not do much in the way of putting points on the board for a while, in fact none of the Tigers did in late 2011, and the team ended the year in last place. The year ended and the teams’ fortunes changed.
With this edition of the prospect report I will continue my count down of the top 15 prospects in the Islanders system from this past season. If haven’t read the first part of the countdown then click here and catch yourself up.
#10 Mikko Koskinen – Goalie, KalPa (Swedish Elite) 6’-6” 202lbs
Mikko is the first and only goaltender to make this list as Kevin Poulin and Andres Nilsson played their season in the AHL. Koskinen spent his season in the Swedish Elite league in order to avoid a three headed goalie monster at Bridgeport. Playing for KalPa this season, Mikko appeared in 25 games posting a GAA of 2.30 and a save percentage of .916. Koskinen also played in 6 games during the opening round of the playoffs in which KalPa was eliminated.
The NHL's current collective bargaining agreement might look a bit different heading into the 2013 season. After the lockout in 2005, the NHL implemented a salary cap after forfeiting an entire season - it appears that both the players and the owners have learned from their past foolish mistakes and won't let that happen again, but there are matter that might not be settled so easily.
One of them is an amnesty clause. Basically, an amnesty clause would allow any team to eliminate a bad player contract under certain conditions. The NBA elected to put this clause into their CBA back in 2005, but it came with a twist. If an organization chose to use the amnesty clause, the player still received a paycheck that counted against the cap, but they did not have to pay a luxury tax on these waived salaries.
Whether or not the NHL and its players will be able to come to terms on something similar, or entirely different, will remain to be seen until the talks are officially underway.
At the end of the season in 2006 or 07, Jeremy Colliton cleaned out his locker and headed home. He had a long drive ahead going from Bridgeport, CT to Blackie, AB. Twitter was not created until March of ’06 and didn’t launch until that July but Facebook was available and Jeremy used it to chronicle his long drive home. His periodic status updates about which George Strait song he was listening to, or how he could not wait for the taste of Canadian beef, eased the pain that I and other hockey fans experience when the season ends. Today it’s Twitter that provides that catharsis.
Several of this years’ Sound Tigers club use twitter and most posted something about their journey. It was obvious from reading each of them that, though sad to leave, they were happy to be home. Kevin Poulin said he was glad to have some ‘home cooking’ and wished teammates Rhett Rakhshani (driving solo to California) and David Ullstrom (flying home to Sweden) well. Ullstrom was in touch with both Casey Cizikas and Trevor Frischmon about having them come to visit him over the summer. John Persson (remember this kids’ name) also from Sweden did not return home. He instead returned to his Canadian billet family in Red Deer, Alberta where he has the most adorable five(?) year-old blonde alarm clock.
This was a season like no other. From its quick start to its abrupt ending it was unique. In season’s past, after mini-camp, the team would form early in September and begin getting ready for the upcoming year. Practice, photo-shoots, training, find lodging, practice, training, media day, practice, training, meet and greet, practice, training. After two weeks, a pre-season game or two and the season is at the doorstep. Not this year.
The team stayed on Long Island until the last minute, perhaps to give the new coaching staff the training and practice that they needed with the Islanders systems. Whatever the reason, the normal two plus weeks was compressed to a few days. The routine remained the same, but with little time on hand the players were getting up at six in the morning to look for housing before heading to practice, training, etc. Condos and houses rented, friendships that will last for years were made and the season began. And a great season it would be, a banner season by all standards.
Embarrassed. That is the only word I can think of that describes how I feel about Thursday nights’ Sound Tigers loss to the Whale. It has little to do with the way the team played or the outcome of the game. It has nothing to do with the embarrassment I felt for the singer of our National Anthem who forgot the words. It has everything to do with the small crowd in attendence. I can only recall one time I felt that totally embarrassed.
After years of living in the same house, I had just moved into a one-bedroom condo on the first floor of a well-lit building in Bridgeport. Prior to that, my normal routine for nocturnal emissions was, rise from bed, take a left, another left, quick right and close the door behind me. In my new environs this familiar routine left me buck-naked in the hallway where looking to my right I could see the entrance to St. Ambrose Church. I was able to escape my embarrassment; the Sound Tigers were not as fortunate.
With the possible exception of World Cup Soccer, there is no contest in sports more intense than playoff hockey at any level. Tonight at 7pm The Webster Bank Arena will play host to the AHL’s opening round of the Calder Cup Championships. This years contest starts with an historic battle between the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, proud affiliate of the New York Islanders, and Hartford’s Whale, the New York Rangers sister club.
While the two teams have met some 130 times in the last 11 years, they have never faced each other in the playoffs. While Bridgeport holds a slight advantage in this years’ regular season 10 game competition, the only advantage that earns them is home ice. This is only an advantage if the fans come out and make it one. The fans that do show up can expect to see professional hockey at its best. Here is how I see it:
Of the many perks offered to season ticket holders, my favorite is the end-of-season, Port Jeff Ferry cruise with the players. It also seems to be an event equally enjoyed by the players as well, and what’s not to enjoy? Free food and drink provided by the Sound Tigers organization and their sponsors and 3 hours of relaxed mingling of players and fans, priceless. This years’ cruise took place Monday evening and was once again a huge success. I was fortunate to spend a good bit of time talking to goalie Anders Nilsson, still on the mend from an ankle injury he sustained in the March 18 game against the Worcester Sharks.
After allowing seven goals in an onslaught of a hockey game, the final buzzer at the Nationwide Arena would not only sound the ending of a massacre, but also signify the end of what was a disappointing season for the New York Islanders.
It was a disappointing year for many reasons. With the rebuild entering its fourth season, many expected this team's fortunes to change. For plenty, that meant making the playoffs instead of falling into the draft lottery. For yours truly, that meant climbing out of the cellar but not high enough to reach 8th place. I am sad to say that we were both wrong. The Islanders finished the year out of the playoffs and 27th overall in the league, giving them the fourth overall pick going into Tuesday night's draft lottery for the second year in a row.
On paper you can call the 2012 season just the same as any other. At 14th place in the Eastern Conference, the Isles finished the season with a 34-37-11 record with 79 points. That's only a six point improvement over last season and the SAME exact record as the year before that in 2010. It would almost appear that the rebuild has established a trend of not going up or down, but rather staying put.