They got a little bit from everyone, getting the rookie goal-scoring record from one guy, getting their standout young defenseman a share of the league lead, getting another strong comeback game from their goalie. But a couple of the kids had big nights tonight, too, one on the scoresheet, the other more subtly.
Well, subtle might be the wrong word for Mike Keenan’s night, with a big fight and a few big hits.
“Mike’s the type of player, he’s a competitor,” Scott Pellerin said. “He’s going to play hockey the right way. He’s going to finish his checks. He’s smart positionally.”
Pellerin was impressed with the way Keenan came back in top condition this week after spending time back at Dartmouth to take care of some school commitments. Keenan said he and his Big Green teammate, new Providence Bruin Matt Lindblad, skated, took some shots, worked out, which left him in good shape for this week.
“It was good to get back in,” Keenan said. “I felt pretty confident out there. I was able to get involved physically.”
And he got his first fight, too, after Matt Clackson lined up Sean Backman head-on. Backman was slow to get up but managed to stay in; by then, Keenan had gone after Clackson.
“Backs got hit in open ice,” Keenan said. “It was one of those ones — it wasn’t necessarily a dirty hit, but it was one of those borderline hits. I felt I needed to go step up and do it for Backs. I was able to finally drop my gloves. I thought it went OK. It was good to get it under my belt.”
And later in the first period, Riley Wetmore got his own first: a goal, and neatly, his old college roommate set him up. Scott Campbell has been a big help since their time at UMass Lowell, Wetmore said, and having him around has been helpful this first pro weekend.
The biggest difference he sees is one that we’ve heard a lot from newcomers: “Just strength,” Wetmore said. “In college, you always have one or two lines that are really strong. In this league, all the defensemen, all the lines are going to be really strong. Everyone out there is playing for their job.”
He’s got a contract for next year; Keenan doesn’t at the moment. A lot of these Sound Tigers are under contract of one form or another. (List on Tuesday.) There’s always turnover. They scuffled at times to points-.500, and as it turned out, they needed six more points somewhere along the line.
“Winning is an important part of development,” Pellerin said. “At times, with our inconsistency and youth, we weren’t able to put teams away, to get on the roll we needed to get in the playoffs. The league’s very competitive. You can see how tight the races are. You can’t have nights off.”
Matt Donovan finishes 14-34-48, a tiebreaker behind Justin Schultz’s 18-30-48. Brock Nelson’s 25th goal breaks a tie with Rhett Rakhshani for the team rookie record. Possible they only come back if there’s an exhibition game here. (Though I’ve said that before about other people. We’ll see.)
In non-playoff years, Bridgeport is 4-1 in its last game. They’ve all been at home. They’ve actually only finished on the road twice, a tie at Wilkes-Barre in 2004 and a loss in Hartford in 2006. They’re 4-2-1 in regular-season finales when there’s playoffs beyond. (Pure curiosity. Happened to have checked.)
What a finish. Norfolk is less than a minute away from a point, forcing the Bears’ hands (though the Bears were already up 2-0), when Ryan Spooner finishes a hat trick, Providence beats Norfolk, and Norfolk’s season ends with a thud. (Chris Bourque had four assists, maybe trying to help Ryan prolong his season.) Didn’t matter in the end, because Hershey won 4-2 over Manchester. The Bears are in; Connecticut is (franchise or state, regardless) out.
The Sound Tigers last won a playoff series in 2003. Since then, 25 of the other 29 teams in the league have won at least one. Springfield, Lake Erie, Peoria and the new Albany are the four others who have not won a playoff series since 2003, though obviously all but Springfield got a later start (and is the only one getting a chance this spring), and two won playoff series in the Sound Tigers era in earlier incarnations: Albany as the Lowell Lock Monsters in 2005, Peoria as the Worcester IceCats in 2004. And aside from those four, only San Antonio hasn’t won a best-of-7 since Bridgeport beat Hamilton in 2002; last year’s first round was its first playoff-series win.
(The Lake Erie franchise has never won in the AHL but, as the Utah Grizzlies, last won in the IHL in 1997. Springfield won the preliminary round in 2003 — the second and decisive game was the night before Bridgeport-Manchester began; I remember stopping on the way up and writing a short — but anyway hasn’t won a real round since 1997. Adirondack hasn’t won (or made the playoffs) in Glens Falls, but they’re treated as the same franchise as Philadelphia, which last won a round in 2008.)
Aside from the Lock Monsters and IceCats, five other defunct/moved-on clubs have also won one since 2003: Iowa, Cincinnati, Manitoba, the Albany River Rats and, in a preliminary round, the Cleveland Barons.
Because it’s what we do here on this day: The Real Standings:
EASTERN CONFERENCE NORTHEAST y-Springfield (3) 40 27 9 89 Connecticut 33 38 5 71 Albany 28 33 15 71 Bridgeport 30 39 7 67 Adirondack 26 41 9 61 EAST y-Binghamton (2) 40 25 11 91 x-Syracuse (4) 39 28 9 87 x-W-B/Scranton (6) 35 32 9 79 x-Hershey (8) 32 34 10 74 Norfolk 30 38 8 68* ATLANTIC y-Providence (1) 40 21 15 95 x-Portland (5) 36 33 7 79 x-Manchester (7) 35 35 6 76 St. John's 30 39 7 67 Worcester 25 38 13 63 WESTERN CONFERENCE NORTH y-Toronto (1) 39 26 11 89 Rochester 33 32 11 77 Lake Erie 29 34 13 71 Abbotsford 27 36 13 67 Hamilton 26 42 8 60 MIDWEST y-Grand Rapids (3) 37 30 9 83 x-Milwaukee (6) 38 32 6 82 x-Rockford (7) 37 33 6 80 Chicago 31 35 10 72 Peoria 27 40 9 63 SOUTH y-Texas (2) 37 27 12 86 x-Charlotte (4) 39 39 7 85 x-Oklahoma City (5) 36 27 13 85 x-Houston (8) 35 31 10 80 San Antonio 26 40 10 62
(Usual disclaimers: These convert OTLs to losses and any shootout games to ties. Yes, teams would play games differently under those rules, especially late in the year. This is just translating results backward. And yes, as you were wondering, Bridgeport would be 12th ahead of St. John’s on goal differential. And *-No, Norfolk wouldn’t have had 109 points this year without the shootout. Cut-and-paste-from-last-year is not your friend sometimes.)
Interestingly, only one swap, though there’s some rearranging and a new East Division champ: Rockford instead of Rochester (10 shootout wins).
In Pythagorean terms (again with the shootout goals taken out), the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference remained the playoff teams, and the only switch in the Western Conference actually left out Milwaukee; Rockford and Rochester both made it. Some switches to order. Interestingly (to me at least), even though they allowed a league-worst 237 non-shootout goals, the Sound Tigers were 10th in the conference in Pythagorean percentage. Portland allowed 231, only six fewer, and only scored nine more than Bridgeport.
The team has exit interviews Tuesday. More of a wrapup then. Though there might be stuff in between: From two years ago, this isn’t my favorite tweet, but it’s probably the most self-revealing.