Feb. 1, 2002: Bridgeport 1 at Springfield 7. The bus breaks down on the way to the then-Springfield Civic Center. Rick DiPietro fights Dieter Kochan, and then pretty much everyone else fights everyone else. The team falls to 17th overall. “I think it could be good for the team to have something like this,” rookie Justin Mapletoft says. “We saw a lot of guys stand up for one another.” No, seriously, where’s this team going?
Feb. 2, 2002: Bridgeport 3 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 2. They’re going to the Wyoming Valley, for starters, and they fall behind 2-0 at what’s then still First Union Arena. Matt Higgins and Ray Giroux score to tie it. Ray Schultz, involved all game with Billy Tibbetts, gets Tibbetts to go after him, earning the Sound Tigers a four-minute power play. Chris Armstrong’s right-point blast on the first minor breaks the tie, and Bridgeport breaks a five-game winless streak. (This was, by the way, Bridgeport’s first game against the Penguins. They’d play once or twice more over the years.)
Feb. 6, 2002: Bridgeport 5 at Manchester 1. The gamer notes that the chemistry seems to be coming back. Ben Guite scores twice. Guite-Juraj Kolnik-Marko Tuomainen dominates in the offensive zone. DiPietro makes 31 saves. A Chris Armstrong goal gives him an eight-game scoring streak, then the Bridgeport record (it still is for defensemen).
Feb. 8, 2002: Bridgeport 4 at Worcester 2. “To me, we stole one,” Steve Stirling said at the barn that was still the Centrum*. The Sound Tigers were doing nothing until the third. That’s when the IceCats took three consecutive penalties, an Andrei Troschinsky tripping penalty, an Eric Boguniecki high-stick on Chris Armstrong, and a Marc Brown high-stick on Trent Hunter that drew blood for what then was an automatic major. The Sound Tigers scored three power-play goals and won for Steve Valiquette.
Feb. 16, 2002: Bridgeport 3 at Lowell 2 (OT). Evgeny Korolev scores 1:17 into overtime to make it six in a row overall for Bridgeport (they’ve trailed in five of them) and four on the road. Ray Giroux ties it at 2 on a nice play coming into the zone and beating an otherwise-stellar Tyler Moss. Rick DiPietro goes over .500 (17-16-6) with 26 saves.
Feb. 22, 2002: Bridgeport 3 at Springfield 1. Former Falcons Steve Valiquette (33 saves) and Trent Hunter (two goals) stand out in Bridgeport’s ninth win in a row. Bridgeport moves four points ahead of Hartford (unbeaten in eight) for first in the East Division. It’s the first game for Scott Ricci and Graham Belak.
March 1, 2002: Bridgeport 3 at Cincinnati 2. “Ricky stole one for us. It’s that simple,” Stirling said. DiPietro’s 40 saves, 19 of them in the second, stand up after Bridgeport’s three-goal third, which include Kolnik’s two goals, his first in 14 games. The second of those two, short side, inspire the Mighty Ducks’ goalie to smack his stick against the post, then toss the stick into the stands**. I’ve no idea what became of this Ilja Bryzgalov, who got a two-game suspension. Adam Edinger, future piece of a trivia question, scores Cincinnati’s first goal. The Sound Tigers move two points ahead of Hartford for first in the East.
March 2, 2002: Bridgeport 2 at Cincinnati 4. Valiquette is held more or less blameless; he keeps Bridgeport in it with 31 saves on 33 shots, and actually the Ducks score two empty-netters (including the game-winner, thanks to a late Jason Krog goal). With that Bryzgalov character on the shelf, Jason Elliott starts in goal for Cincy but has the flu. Gregg Naumenko, future piece of a trivia question, comes on and gets the win. The Ducks’ second goal comes off the stick of Yuri Butsayev, a name to remember three months, a day and 22:05 of overtime later.
The Sound Tigers go on to lose in Milwaukee the next day before breaking the two-game road skid with a 5-3 win March 6 at Quebec, completing their weeklong tour of Places They’d Never Visit Again. The rest of March went well. The first week of April went well enough. And then the rest of April and most of May were pretty interesting, until they ran into Butsayev again.
*-At least Verizon Wireless Arena still has its name***.
**-Future events have me wondering if that was just a physics experiment gone wrong.
***-I think. Didn’t read the Journal today. Any telecom takeovers?