While the New York Islanders are set to start their 2021-22 season on Thursday night in Carolina, their American Hockey League affiliate in Bridgeport will begin their season on Friday night in Hartford against the Wolfpack. After an abbreviated 2020-21 season due to the pandemic, the AHL is going to be as close to normal as they’ve been since COVID-19 shut down the 2019-21 season as they will have a “full” 72 game schedule.
Formerly the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the rebranded Bridgeport Islanders will be taking aim at winning a Calder Cup but they are also getting some of the organization’s prospects ready just in case they get the call from the parent club on Long Island.
For an AHL franchise like the Bridgeport Islanders, there is a balance between winning games and developing players.
“It’s always a challenge but I think the biggest thing is that you know it’s the challenge,” said Bridgeport General Manager Chris Lamoriello who is also the Assistant General Manager of the New York Islanders.
“What you try and do is your best day to day to put those players in a position to succeed. Developmentally, we want to make sure that we’re supporting all of the players no matter what category they’re in and then from a winning and losing standpoint, that’s something you’re always looking to accomplish day to day.”
(Photo of Chris Lamoriello courtesy of Bridgeport Islanders)
The Bridgeport Islanders roster features a mix of some of the best prospects in the organization and AHL veterans. In any sport, a minor league roster can change on a daily basis because of a number of factors including call-ups, injuries and, given the world we are living in now, illness that could result in missing some extended time. The schedule also plays a role in how the roster shakes out because there could be times when an AHL team is playing three games in three days.
Shuffling players in and out of the lineup while trying to win and develop prospects can be a bit of a juggling act.
“That’s something that we’ve always dealt with,” said Lamoriello. “We need to make sure that we’re doing a better job on both counts developmentally and from winning and losing. I don’t know if you want to sacrifice either one.”
A number of players on the Bridgeport roster participated in training camp with the Islanders on Long Island and played in NHL pre-season games. Defenseman Robin Salo opened a lot of eyes with his performance in both practices and the games as he made a push for a roster spot with the big club. Ultimately, he was assigned to the Bridgeport Islanders where he will continue to develop and learn the “Islander Way”.
(Photo of Robin Salo courtesy of Bridgeport Islanders)
As he helps the AHL club win games, he could just be a phone call away from being summoned to Long Island if there is an injury or illness on the Isles’ blueline.
“I think Robin certainly positioned himself well for turning pro with us and coming over (from Finland) last year,” said Lamoriello. “I think it’s really up to him how quickly things can progress. We’re going to get him as ready as quickly as we can but we’re not going to rush anything.”
Getting a chance to see Salo, a second-round pick in 2017, in action while playing in Bridgeport would certainly be enticing for those in Islanders Country. Fans who make the trip to Webster Bank Arena, starting with the home opener on Saturday October 23rd against the Springfield Thunderbirds, will have the opportunity to watch Salo and other prospects who could potentially make it to the NHL.
The Bridgeport roster also includes players like 2019 second-round pick Samuel Bolduc and Mitch Vande Sompel who will anchor the blueline for the AHL Islanders. There’s also talent up front including Anatolii Golyshev, Otto Koivula, Austin Czarnik, Chris Terry and 2019 first-round pick Simon Holmstrom, who notched a goal and an assist in last Friday’s pre-season finale against Hartford. With Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov not being able to participate in training camp due to injury, Jakub Skarek saw action in NHL pre-season games and is expected to be part of a goaltending tandem with Cory Schneider in Bridgeport.
“They created a very competitive camp for us,” said Lamoriello.
A successful minor league team is important for any sports organization but the primary objective is to develop players to get the call to the NHL. For the Bridgeport Islanders, it’s a balancing act. The New York Islanders are a Stanley Cup contender and they want their best prospects to have the best possible experience and development from the time they turn pro. It’s also important for Bridgeport to win games because they want to establish a winning team for the community.
With the talent on the Bridgeport Islanders this season, fans of the New York Islanders should pay close attention to the future Islanders and also take a ride up to Webster Bank Arena and see a team that should be fun to watch.