by Andy Hutchison | soundtigers.com
From the players on the ice to the jerseys they wear to the coaching staff on the bench – the Bridgeport Sound Tigers take the ice with a new look for their sixth season of play in the American Hockey League.
The Sound Tigers, top affiliate of the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders, open the season this evening at Binghamton in new uniforms featuring the Islanders’ blue and orange colors. A new coaching staff, led by head coach Dan Marshall, guides a team built around returning goaltender Wade Dubielewicz, a veteran defensive corps and a complement of young, fast-skating, up-and-coming forwards.
"Speed" is the first word Marshall uses to describe his team’s strongest attributes. "Speed and work ethic — we see those to be the strengths of our game," Marshall said.
"They have an eagerness to compete," the head coach added. "They’re really anxious to play — they’re passionate, they’re young."
Assistant coach Bernie Cassell works with the players on skating techniques and strides while fellow assistants Joe Ferras and Jack Capuano, respectively, focus on the offensive and defensive aspects of the game.
The team’s defense is comprised of a mostly-veteran group. Mark Wotton, who comes from the defending AHL Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears, is a 32-year-old with more than a decade of professional hockey experience under his belt. Rick Berry, 27 is another new blueliner. Berry helped Milwaukee reach the finals against Hershey last season and brings more than 10 years of pro hockey experience to the team.
"We want to play an aggressive style," Capuano said of the defensive philosophy of the Sound Tigers. "We want to be quick and physical down low and to step up offensively at the right time."
Kevin Mitchell, 26 and Drew Fata, 23, are two more new defensemen, each of whom is a threat offensively. Mitchell had 23 points in 50 games with the Houston Aeros in 2003-04, his most recent season in the AHL. Fata, meanwhile, lit the lamp twice with a blazing slap shot in five preseason games this year.
"Our goal is to play sound defensively and move the puck to our forwards for quick transitions," Capuano said.
The young forwards who will take outlet passes from the defensemen are led by, among others, 21-year-old centerman Robert Nilsson, who picked up 28 points in just 29 games with the Sound Tigers last season. Other returnees on offense are Matt Koalska, Jeremy Colliton and Steve Regier.
New faces to the offense include Luch Aquino, 21, who did play nine games in Bridgeport a year ago, along with Petteri Nokelainen, who after skating in his native Finland for three years, laced up the skates on Long Island for 15 games with the Sound Tigers’ parent club last winter.
Port Jefferson, N.Y., native Peter Ferraro
brings a local tie, along with a wealth of professional experience, to the organization. Ferraro’s career has included stints with the rival Hartford Wolf Pack and NHL teams Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Rangers. Herning, Denmark, native Frans Nielsen
, 22, comes to the states to play hockey for the first time along with Russian native Sergei Ogorodnikov
Ferras expects offensive distribution to be spread throughout the team’s four front lines with veterans Colliton, who played 66 games in Bridgeport and 19 on Long Island last year, and Regier, who played more than 70 in Bridgeport in each of the last two years, providing leadership to the goal-scorers.
Speaking of leadership, Dubielewicz, who has been a part of the Islanders’ system since his University of Denver days, is back for his third season in the Park City.
"It’s calming to know he’s going to be between the pipes behind a veteran defense," Marshall said of the goalie who stopped two penalty shots in a single game last season.
Billy Thompson, the team’s back-up goaltender at the start of the campaign, has played parts of each of the last four seasons with Binghamton and also is battle-tested in the goal crease.
The Sound Tigers have an overall new look on and off the ice but will strive to continue a tradition of winning which has led southern Connecticut’s pro hockey team to the playoffs in four of five seasons.