- By Jeffrey Hersh @thejeffhersh
I’m just going to come out and say it: The 2012 NHL Lockout might be the best thing to ever happen to the New York Islanders. This is because of the effects of the Lockout on the AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Before we get into this, one must know the answer to the question, what exactly is a Sound Tiger?
If you’ve ever wandered the coastline of the Long Island Sound, you know of the infamous rusted-over “Beware of Tigers” signs hidden under the overgrown foliage. These beasts have been devouring fishermen and wayward sullen surfers searching for waves over five inches – not going to happen on the sound, dude – since prehistoric times. The “sound tiger,” as native Connecticutians call the bloodthirsty threat, have been routinely captured and shipped across the sound to island of Long. There, the sound tigers have assimilated to Islander culture, and fed on the carcass’s of Manhattanite Rangers, out for a jaunt in the suburbs.
Maybe this all true. But most likely, it’s all fabricated. Search far and wide along the coast of the Long Island sound, and you will not find a single tiger. However, nestled in the Arena at Harbor Yard of Bridgeport, you will find the AHL hockey club known as the Sound Tigers. Right now it’s important to keep a watchful eye on what these tiger cubs are doing, because they’re revving up a potential surprising successful season for their NHL affiliate New York Islanders.
Coming off a blazing 6-2 win over the Providence Bruins, the Sound Tigers are perched high in the standings with a 10 wins and 4 losses record heading into American Thanksgiving. A look at the team stats sees they are led by Islander prospects Brock Nelson (14 points) at center, Casey Cizikas (8 points) on wing, and both Aaron Ness (9 points) and Matt Donovan (9 points) on defense. The Sound Tigers also boast continued stalwart defense by Travis Hamonic (also with 8 points), who is already a top four defender for the Islanders. Due to his age, the Isles were able to ship Mr. Hamonic down to Bridgeport just before the lockout commenced.
Between the pipes, the war rages between Kevin Poulin (6-3 with a 2.99 GAA and a .905 save percentage) and Anders Nilsson (4-0 with 1.75 GAA and a .935 save percentage). Mr. Nilsson was in net against Providence. The excitement of two goaltenders both knowing there is going to be an open slot on the Island once this pesky lockout is through has created for an exciting rivalry where each net minder pushes the other. Last reports suggested longtime struggling-to-remain-healthy Rick Dipietro is hurt in Germany, and Evgeni Nabokov will need a tandem partner as he reaches the twilight of his veteran status.
At the top of the Sound Tiger charts, leading the team in goals and points is El NIÑO himself, Nino Niederreiter (9 goals, 8 assists, 17 points). For Mr. Niederreiter, this lockout-forced stint in Bridgeport is exactly what he needed. Niederreiter couldn’t be sent to the AHL last season, as it was a NHL or juniors only option for him. The Islanders kept him with the big boys, only this sizeable kid, who needs time to build confidence to utilize his scoring hands, was regulated to fourth line duties with slow-footed grinding veterans. Not the kind of players an offensive threat like Mr. Niederreiter can learn from. Needless to say, only one goal on the season for Mr. Niederreiter suggested to many this 2010 first overall draft pick may be disaster. His play this season in Bridgeport however reminds the organization what he could be capable of on the NHL level. Thanks to the lockout, he may be getting the work he needed on the AHL circuit to improve his skills and confidence to mold him into the player the New York Islanders envisioned. Granted, a leading scorer in the AHL may only translate to a third line offensive threat in the NHL, the Islanders know that their rebuilding process over the past few seasons has been based on waiting for these young talents to blossom.
Most of these young players had a chance to taste NHL action last season with Islanders falling out of playoff contention early. As stated earlier, Hamonic is already a leader and the most dependable defender on the Islanders. The Sound Tiger’s success is the roar of the future for the New York Islanders.
If the NHL and NHLPA can get their acts together over the next few weeks– and mind you, capturing a fictional, yet ferocious sound tiger and sticking commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA director Donald Fehr in a room with only a chair and a rope, forcing them to work together to subdue the sound beast and learn they can make a deal to save the season isn’t a bad idea– than these Sound Tigers will have to say goodbye to their high riding players as they make their way to the New York Islanders and help push this team back to the realm of playoff contention. If it happens, Islander fans can thank the dubious Lockout for giving their young Sound Tigers some extra time to gel and find their game.