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Ten years later, development still the key

by Jamie Palatini || AHL On The Beat Archive 

In 2001, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers began their inaugural season as well as their affiliation with the New York Islanders to serve as the primary development team for the organization’s rising talent. Ten years later, the Sound Tigers role in that development has only strengthened.

Midway through the Sound Tigers 10th Anniversary Season, there have already been 10 players that have donned both the Sound Tigers and Islanders crests this season. Of the 30 players currently listed on the New York Islanders roster, 20 of those players have played for the Sound Tigers at some point during their careers. Sound Tigers head coach Pat Bingham has been on the bench for 4 and a half seasons, promoted to the top job after Jack Capuano replaced Scott Gordon earlier this year on Long Island.

“Young players need to gain experience playing on the road and in tough situations,” said Bingham soon after his promotion to head coach. “When people come and watch the Sound Tigers, I want them to say, ‘That’s a hard-working, well-coach, disciplined team.”

The players have responded to that mantra as the Sound Tigers show the fourth fewest penalty minutes in the AHL this season and fewest in the Eastern Conference to this point. Those who have gotten the call from the Islanders have carried that hard work and discipline to the NHL level where many Sound Tigers have made an immediate impact in physicality, goal-scoring and goaltending.

Forward Matt Martin began 2010-11 season with the Sound Tigers following 76 games with the club last season as well as five with the Islanders. The Windsor, Ont. native was called up just seven games into the season and has been a force to be reckoned with, leading the Islanders in hits and notching his first career NHL goal.
Rookie defenseman Travis Hamonic was called up soon after Martin and has not only remained with the Islanders, but plays in the top defensive pairing with former Sound Tiger and AHL All-Star Andrew MacDonald.

Jesse Joensuu has split time between the two clubs and has spent time playing alongside the likes of John Tavares and Matt Moulson. The native of Pori, Finland had made contributions including a game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils and a tally in an overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on New Year’s Eve.

Most recently, the goaltending has stepped up in a big way. Following Dwayne Roloson’s trade to Tampa Bay, the Islanders recalled Nathan Lawson who replaced an injured Rick DiPietro in Calgary and stopped 28 of 29 saves to preserve the win in his hometown on Jan. 3.

Kevin Poulin was the next netminder to earn his shot, and the 20 year-old rookie from Montreal did not disappoint in his first Islanders start.

Poulin stopped 34 shots to earn his first NHL win over the Avalanche, a 4-3 decision in Denver on Jan. 8. All three goals in regulation were scored by players who have spent time with the Sound Tigers; Blake Comeau netted a power play goal, and Sound Tigers veteran Jeremy Colliton notched two tallies with the man-advantage in his first game with the Islanders since the 2008-09 season.

“From day one until today, it’s been clear that primary objective here is to get better every day,” Bingham said. “We want to make guys better hockey players, make them advance to the next level. It’s great to see them mature and become professional hockey players…it’s the most fulfilling part of job.“

Bingham’s outlook on coaching seems like a perfect fit for a Sound Tigers team with plenty of young players in their first seasons of professional hockey. As important as it is to develop players on the ice, their off-ice development is just as critical to a successful future in professional hockey.

“It kind of has its own timeframe. There are unique individuals that have that maturity and skill set. That combination is rare, and those are the rising stars that seem to get to the NHL and get there quickly.”

As is the case with many AHL teams, the names and faces on the roster have changed throughout the season. Despite that fact, Bingham says the team’s goals remain the same, hoping to celebrate the 10th Anniversary Season by going one step further than they did in their inaugural season when they faced Chicago in the Calder Cup Finals.

“Our main goal is to make the playoffs,” Bingham said. “Once you’re in, you know that anything can happen and what your goal is from there.”