No lack of leadership on Sound Tigers

by Kimber Auerbach

Last summer, the New York Islanders signed unrestricted free agent Allan Rourke, and the defenseman has proved his worth, scoring seven goals and 18 assists through 50 American Hockey League games this season while serving as the Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ alternate captain.

Recognizing his value, the Islanders just recalled Rourke when a rash of injuries depleted the big club’s roster less than a week after the National Hockey League’s trade deadline.

“He is one of the leaders in our locker room,” Sound Tigers head coach Dave Baseggio said. “He has a veteran presence, so when he speaks, people listen. The way he prepares for games is also a great example for younger players to follow.”

On Dec. 3, Sound Tigers captain Kevin Colley was recalled by the Islanders, which left the team without a captain. Rourke, having played six seasons in the AHL and spent time with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, knew his role on the team would have to change as well as others.

“I don’t think you can replace a real energy guy like Kevin Colley.” Rourke said. “When you see how hard he’s working and playing, he brings everyone’s play to the next level. As far as in the dressing room, everyone has had to step up.”

Step up, Rourke and his teammates have done, posting a 24-16-2-2 record since Colley joined the Islanders, placing them in fourth place in the East Division just two points behind the third-place the Norfolk Admirals.

With Colley on Long Island, Rourke did not jump into the role as captain, instead he and the other veterans on the team picked up where he had left off.

“It’s was tough on the team, but I didn’t look at myself as the captain, Kevin Colley was the captain of this team and still is to this day,” Rourke said. “You can’t replace what he brings. Losing him was tough, but guys have stepped up into new roles allowing more ice time for other players to step into.”

On Jan. 27, Harlan Pratt joined the Sound Tigers from the Springfield Falcons and partnered on defense with Rourke. Up until Rourke’s recent recall, his first to the Islanders, the two formed one of the Sound Tigers’ best blue-line pairings.

“Both players are smart, savvy veterans, and their positional play is excellent,” Baseggio said. “They think a good game and that alleviates a lot of the courageous stuff. When you are in good position, positive things happen which allows them to work well together.”

Paired with Rourke, Pratt has learned from his ability to play solid defense and then jump into the offensive play and contribute at the right times.

“It took a few games to become used to each other’s play, but once you learn each other’s tendencies, you become accustomed to what they do,” Pratt said. “It’s nice being partnered with him and knowing we would stay together every game as defense partners, which makes it easier for us to work together.”

Four days after Pratt was acquired, the Islanders organization was jarred with the loss of Colley when he suffered a serious spinal injury during the Islanders’ 5-3 victory over the Washington Capitals. The injury caused Colley to retire from the game just a month after the terrible accident.

“You cannot say enough about his leadership qualities in the locker room. He is one of those guys you hate to play against but love to play with,” Rourke said. “It is definitely a sad situation and a sad day for hockey to lose a guy like that and if he never skates again, we will miss him a lot.”

About a month after Colley’s retirement, Baseggio received a phone call from him talking about his and the team’s future.

“He told me he would not be offended if I were to give the team captaincy to someone else,” Baseggio said. “I never thought about it until Kevin said that, and I don’t know if it is something I am going to do yet or not. Part of me still thinks that Kevin Colley is still the captain with the inspiration he gave to this team before the accident and now after.”

Baseggio has not lacked leadership on his team, having eight players wear the alternate captain’s “A” on their sweater. Rourke and Wyatt Smith were the team’s original alternates at the start of the season, but others such as Rob Collins, Jeff Hamilton, Bruno Gervais and Joel Bouchard have worn the “A” as well.

But Rourke has been the steady constant with the “A” on his sweater in every game he has played.

“I’m not a huge talker in the room,” Rourke said. “You have your leaders in the dressing room and then the guys that just go out and lead by example every night and I try to pride myself at doing that.”

Rourke and his teammates still feel Colley’s leadership each game skating onto the ice to the opening video on the arena’s screens, which depicts Colley getting suited up and walking down the tunnel to the ice. Colley has not been forgotten by his teammates with the Sound Tigers.

“The fact that he is able to walk is a huge inspiration for us,” Rourke said. “I think it would be a great idea to honor Kevin with a great playoff run from us showing how much of an inspiration he really is.”