Been a while since I’d seen the barn without the ice in and nothing else going on, just the bare floor. Know I’ve never seen that when they’d just played a road game 36 hours earlier.
A few guys were on their way home, as we said, Saturday night and Sunday. A few more hit the road early Monday (Chris Bruton was about to start a drive of over 40 hours, for one.) The players’ exit meetings with the coaches, Eric Cairns, the trainers and the strength-and-conditioning staff were done more or less by 1 p.m.
So it ends. We’ll be around, of course. Lots of alumni watching to do in the playoffs, at the World Championship and, of course, in Stockton.
Sorry for the tardiness. Made more work for myself last night, then was stunned it didn’t get done. But you hopefully saw the wrap package in the paper today (or if not…), or maybe you saw the apologetic tweet from the blog-n-stories Twitter feed @bstsoundinoff. Or maybe you were busy watching the NHL playoffs, and if so, I can’t blame you, ’cause come on, Mikael Granlund. You can watch that over and over and over, like Brian Williams and Lester Holt doing “Rapper’s Delight.”
Glanced over the schedule for something today and noticed something funny (not the ha-ha kind, either). They obviously struggled out of the gate and even into November, which finished up with the 8-6 loss at Albany. That was Game 19. Bridgeport had 10 regulation losses (5-10-1-3, with two shootout wins).
They won the next four as Ryan Strome went into overdrive and the defense settled down a bit. They sputtered through the rest of December after Strome went up and into the new year. At the midpoint, Bridgeport had 20 regulation losses (13-20-1-4, with three shootout wins).
Then Strome came back, and then Matt Donovan, and the gang was (mostly) here for the Olympic break, and they played well if unsustainably. Then the gang was broken up irreparably and got the opposite kind of results that you wouldn’t think would be sustainable.
Bridgeport finished with 40 regulation losses (28-40-2-6). I hate to say they’re who we thought they were, but hey, why not call back.
The only team to finish with a worse record than Bridgeport this year had its own problems: homeless Portland.
To bring the year full-circle, Brayden Irwin, who was in camp here, went through a series of moves this year before establishing himself in Rochester.
A bit from Saturday’s Stockton-Ontario game: Former Sound Tiger Jeremy Yablonski, now with Ontario, was suspended for the rest of the series for kicking a Thunder player, Scott Linesburgh reports. Interesting if only because he only got a boarding minor on that play, then went on to score the Reign’s third goal. (Seven of the eight goals in that game were scored by former Sound Tigers, six of them by guys who were here this season.) The Thunder are up 2-0 in the series; Game 3 is in Ontario tonight.
RIP, Hurricane Carter.
Here’s what I’ve got for contract status. Corrections gladly welcomed.
As of March 23, 29 NHL contracts next year (0 G, 11 D, 18 F), including Pulock (who doesn’t count if sent to junior). Numbers in parentheses for signed players are years remaining on the contract; those without numbers are signed only through next season. All signed players are NHL deals unless noted. Lots of help, as you can surely expect, from CapGeek and other sources.
SIGNED: Scott Mayfield (2), Andrey Pedan (2), Ryan Pulock (3), Jason Clark, Mike Halmo, Kirill Kabanov, John Persson, Alan Quine (2), Johan Sundstrom, Scooter Vaughan (AHL)
GROUP 2 FREE AGENTS: Kevin Poulin, Marc Cantin, Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness, Joey Diamond, Brett Gallant, Matt Mangene
GROUP 3 FREE AGENTS: Kenny Reiter, Joe Finley (by a day), Chris Bruton, Justin Johnson
AHL FREE AGENTS: Parker Milner, Mike Cornell, Sean Escobedo, Mike Keenan, Adam Brace, Mathieu Gagnon, Chris Langkow, Jeremy Langlois, Nick Larson, Ben Rosen, Nicolas Tremblay, Riley Wetmore, Philippe Trudeau, Josh Holmstrom, Brant Harris, Dmitriy Antipin
UNSIGNED DRAFT PICKS: Kyle Burroughs, Jesse Graham, Victor Crus Rydberg
ELIGIBLE FOR NHL DRAFT: Justin Hickman
SIGNED: Matt Carkner, Kevin Czuczman, Travis Hamonic (6), Thomas Hickey, Adam Pelech (3), Griffin Reinhart (3), Brian Strait (2), Lubomir Visnovsky, Josh Bailey (4), Eric Boulton, Cal Clutterbuck (3), Sebastian Collberg (3), Michael Grabner (2), Matt Martin (2), Colin McDonald, Brock Nelson, Frans Nielsen (2), Kyle Okposo (2), Ryan Strome (2), John Tavares (4)
GROUP 2 FREE AGENTS: Anders Nilsson, Calvin de Haan, Casey Cizikas, Anders Lee
GROUP 3 FREE AGENTS: Evgeni Nabokov, Radek Martinek
Group 2 players are restricted free agents if given a qualifying offer. The other free agents are all unrestricted.
To wrap up, the annual quote dump. Missed a few guys, and sorry not to catch them at the right times, but here’s where we were.
Should be a separate on Justin Johnson in the paper in the near future, possibly Wednesday, just because we’d never caught up about his NHL debut.
(And just a note that the introductory questions/comments aren’t verbatim; some paraphrased, some just the general tone of what we were talking about)
Tough year, two injuries:
I felt like I was swimming against the current all year, with the injuries, not playing at 100 percent, getting better, just trying to find my game.
How do you approach a summer after a year like this?
I have to get away from the game, for sure. Mentally, I’ve got to take a lot of lessons from this year. I’ve got to get more patient with injuries, not get too high or too low.
Victor Crus Rydberg
It was a good experience. I learned a lot. It was a good group here as a team.
The difference, stepping up here
I think on the ice, it’s more physical, faster. You have to keep your head up at all times. The biggest difference is life outside the ice. There’s good leadership, good guys.
I’m going home, flying home (Monday) night, have a week off or two, then start working out, make ready for next year.
See you at summer camp? I got my ticket yesterday.
Biggest thing to take back
Just the way to conduct myself, being a pro, everything on and off the ice. Taking things away from guys like Fins (Joe Finley), Nesser (Aaron Ness).
What do you work on next year?
Just making decisions quicker. Obviously working on my speed, and I can always be bigger. Moving up in the pro ranks, that’s something all the way as you go, guys get bigger and stronger.”
There were a lot of younger guys here… Able to help each other?
It was good, because we were all learning together, part of the team together. We worked hard every game. I don’t think we were out of any game. The veteran guys as well led the way for us. A lot of guys got a good opportunity. … We want to be a successful program.
So what’ll you remember from this year?
That little streak we were on (in February), that was nice. We had a lot of guys in and out. We stayed positive.
A season to get established up here for you…
It was definitely a step in the right direction. … I started the year in the ECHL, then got the call up here. From the call-up, you want to establish yourself, that they can trust you. I think I did that on my end. I’m excited to be back next year.
So this time up here…
It’s definitely something that I’ll look back on and focus on the things I need to get better at. The game’s a lot different from college. I’ve got to continue to develop my own game.
That was a nice little posse that met you in Hartford after Saturday’s game.
It was definitely fun to play in front of all my friends coming down from UConn. It was definitely nice having fans in the building.
How was it different from what you’ve seen before?
Just the pace of play is a bit faster, for sure. You’ve got to be a little more solid defensively … The game’s easier in some ways because you have better players on your team.
Have the Islanders talked to you about next year?
Not as of yet. … Hopefully I’ll be back.
How was it getting a chance up here?
It was a good experience. It didn’t start as I wanted it to. …
Yeah, tough first game; not a lot of help. You got a few more chances in there…
I appreciated that, more chances to prove myself. …. It’s a level higher here. I can see easily here what I have to work on. Maybe in junior, I didn’t think they affected my game. Here, the play’s faster … it’s easier to find what I have to work on.
What did you get out of the little time here?
I’m really happy I got to have this opportunity. It’s going to help my development a lot to be able to come up and see what it takes to take the next step.
Any moments stand out this week?
I wouldn’t really say many moments, just the whole experience of playing at this level, playing against bigger, stronger men, seeing the skill level here, getting to see what it takes. It’s a whole new game. I’m really happy to get to came and go from there.
Obviously I want to have a good summer, begin to get bigger, stronger. … I want that shot at making the Islanders, and if that’s not the case, I’m hoping to play here in Bridgeport. That’ll really help me moving forward.
Tough finish to the season, I’d imagine: What do you take out of the season?
You’ve got to draw on the positives. The positives were 9-10 guys getting an opportunity to play in the NHL. Looking at it from a development standpoint, we really accomplished our goals there.
Results, we didn’t get the results we wanted. There were a lot of new guys.
How about personally; what stands out about this year?
It was good to get my first win. I think after that happened, I was pretty confident with my game. Obviously, I would’ve liked a better record, better numbers. I felt for the most part I played pretty well, developed even more. I wish I would’ve played more toward the end.
Plans for the summer?
My contract’s up; I’d like to be back here. Last year I signed y first NHL contract. The fire’s still there to look at possibly having the opportunity to do that again. For me, this summer, I’m going to be focused a lot on working on my game. I’ll be training with my brother (Kevin, goalie coach for the USNTDP). I’ll spend a lot of time up there (in Ann Arbor) and immerse myself in goaltending.
You got a chance to come back up and establish yourself here…
It was obviously a great experience this year. I learned a lot. I got to play a big role on the team, which was something I enjoyed. I’ll try not to take that for granted.
There were so many ins and outs, a lot of guys hopping into different roles.
There was a lot of change, for sure. “It put me in situations I wouldn’t be in. I kind of had to adjust. … Just playing the penalty kill, that defensive role, all the little things you’re learning; you’re bringing that attention to detail and improving every day.”
What do you take out of your time here?
I pretty much take every second of it. It was a great opportunity for me. I feel that I learned. I had a chance to be here. It was an honor for me to be a part of this team, this organization. It was an awesome experience. It’s probably the best months of my life.
What was the biggest difference from what you were used to?
Just mostly skating. Speed, skating, making sure you’re able to keep up with the guys, making sure you’re athletic enough to compete.
What are you doing this summer?
I’ll be outside Boston this summer, playing in a summer league in Foxboro. In Walpole, I’ll have ice there every day.
(Keenan’s out for the year after knee surgery; he expects to be ready for the new season)
What stands out about this year?
Having my first full pro year, the length of the season. It’s a lot longer than the college season, obviously. Getting used to that, I’ll understand that better. Just being able every day, bring the same preparation every day, and learning from that, to keep improving.”
What do you take out of this year?
Obviously it wasn’t what we wanted, what we went into it thinking it’d be. … We’ve all learned a lot. For me, I think, every year is more experiences with everything, learning things on the ice, off the ice. As long as you grow every year, that’s the key, and I think I did a little bit again. I’m excited for next year.
With the injuries, the ups and downs, what was this year like?
It’s just kind of a roller-coaster ride, a lot of ups and downs. It was a good experience, but a lot of ups and downs.
I’ll definitely take some time off and get away from the game a little bit, but it’s definitely a summer of hard work. … (but after a full year), kind of knowing what to expect. It’s exciting.
(After talking about the team’s ups and downs, which ran in the wrap story)
For me, going up was a huge pump. I got to see what to expect up there.. But overall, it was a tough season.
You just try to be positive on a day-to-day basis with the new guys, to stick to what we believe in, our structure.
It’s a second year. A lot of turnover and changes, new guys. That happens. For me, it was a good year, mostly mentally. Getting through everything I had, with some injuries, sickness, I did good. I played a few games up in the NHL, came down here, finished it off with two games. It was a season you can look back and say you learned a lot.
So what’d you learn?
Living day by day. Don’t take anything for granted. As soon as a game’s over, review it for a few minutes, and you have to be able to shut it down and don’t look back.
My goal was to play in every game, and I was around, I was in the lineup, which is something I wanted to do. That gave me confidence.
On the positive side of the carousel:
It was nice to be meeting people. I kind of made some friends I wasn’t expecting to.
The NHL stint showed him:
I need to kind of get bigger. That’s going to be a focal point, addiing a few pounds and making sure my skating’s still there. You need quicker decisions. Guys are on you a lot quicker.
Getting back after surgery
It was good to be back, for me. You never want to finish the season on the shelf. I was able to come back and play a key role. For me, again, I was just happy to be healthy. … I’m looking forward to a good offseason.
At the end of the day, it’s us not reaching our team goals; it’s unacceptable, no matter what type of adversity you’re going through. You have to emerge. You have to have that focus as we move forward and continue that development program.
You want to create that winning culture. You have to have the right leadership, the right consistency in your approach. You have to want it every day. That’s what we’re working toward.
Any really memorable points in the season?
I really haven’t had a chance to break it down like that. At the beginning, the promise at the beginning, and how we didn’t get off to the start we wanted.
We got to the middle part, and the younger guys started to get it. We started to put a consistent record together.
Then through the last phase, dealing with injuries, guys going up, with that huge turnover in our roster. To try to have that consistency, that work ethic, that attitude we had to have to be competitive. Our compete level was very high. We just didn’t get the results we were looking for.
Lots of guys went up and did well — any of them stick out to you?
Part 1 of that response made the wrap story
J.J. played his first NHL game. Gally. I think Stromer played his game. A guy like Anders Lee came in highly touted but had to refine his game, find his identity. He not only played that style here, but he played the same style in the NHL.
Mike Halmo, going through a tough first pro season, (46) games, to a guy who took his game to a whole other level. I’ve never seen anybody go from an exit meeting to training game to where he ended up, I’ve never seen so much progress. I’m so proud of his achievement.
A guy like Perss, coming in, battling to find his identity, to compete, to get a chance to play in the NHL, jumping out of a limo at 7:15 and playing that night. Sundstrom, dealing with the adversity of his season, getting a change to get back to his game and compete at a high level and get a chance to play in the NHL.
Scotty, I think he played the most games for us, for a rookie, coming in, being consistent, working on his habits, growing as a leader, going up and understanding the kinds of things he needs to play in the NHL, and he’s hungry.
And other guys went up — Nilsson, de Haan
They got an opportunity. Cal, two tough years with injuries, and going up and playing, playing his game. … He got his confidence, and he was really impressive.