Bridgeport Islanders Relish “Underdog” Role Heading Into AHL Playoffs

Bridgeport Islanders

Midway through the season, it looked like the Bridgeport Islanders would have the same fate as their parent club and not be a playoff team.  But while the New York Islanders will not be going to the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the B-Isles went on an incredible second half run to squeak into the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs and will meet the Providence Bruins in the opening round next week.

As the sixth and final seed in the Atlantic Division, Bridgeport is looking to make some noise in the post-season.

“We earned the right to be there,” said Head Coach Brent Thompson.  “We are definitely the underdogs and our guys are embracing that role.  We feel as a group here that we are just as good as any team and on any given night we’re going to win.”

(Head Coach Brent Thompson)

The B-Isles finished their 72-game regular season with a record of 31-30-7-4 for 73 points and will face the third-seeded Bruins in a best-of-three opening round.  Game one will be Monday in Providence with game two set for Wednesday at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport.  If a third and decisive game is necessary, it will be next Friday in Providence.

It was quite a journey for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, but they are in and will have the chance to compete for the Calder Cup.

“A lot of ups and downs,” said Captain and defenseman Seth Helgeson.  “A lot of adversity that we faced throughout this year.  It’s really rewarding that we worked our way into the playoffs.  I think that’s something that we can be proud of.  It’s an exciting time and just excited for game one.”

Helgeson was steady and physical on the Isles’ blueline this past season with 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points to go along with a 0 +/- and 94 penalty minutes.

During the regular season, the Islanders had a winning record against Providence going 6-4-0-2 in 12 games against the Bruins.  This will be a tough task for Bridgeport against a Providence team led by left wing Cameron Hughes (14 goals and 31 assists for 45 points) and right wing Steven Fogarty (12 goals and 30 assists for 42 points).

“They’re fast,” said forward Chris Terry, the Islanders’ leading scorer this past season with 30 goals and 31 assists for 61 points.

“They play hard, especially in their building.  Up front, they have a lot of skill on their top two lines.  Their power play is pretty lethal.  We’ll have our hands full but I feel like we’ve played them well the second half of the year so we’ll draw off of those games.”

(Forward Chris Terry)

The Bruins are one of the hardest working teams in the AHL along with being big and physical.  They play a similar style to their parent club, so this series could mirror what we saw last spring when the Islanders met the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“They’re really a lot like Boston as far as how aggressive they play,” said Thompson.  “I feel we can hold our own.  It’s going to be a pretty evenly matched series.”

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak and injuries on Long Island, there were a number of players that went back and forth between the AHL and NHL.  One player in particular was forward Austin Czarnik who also wound up spending some time this season with the Seattle Kraken before returning to the Islanders organization in time for the playoff push in Bridgeport.

He’s certainly excited to be a part of it.

(Forward Austin Czarnik)

“We worked hard for this last stretch of the season,” said Czarnik who had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 38 games.

“We didn’t give up and we got rewarded for it. The job is not done yet.  We’re excited to be here and for the opportunity to play for the Calder.”

Forward Michael Dal Colle certainly brings some playoff experience to the table in Bridgeport after he had a taste of it with the big club over the last couple of seasons.  With the New York Islanders going on runs to the NHL’s final four in each of the last two seasons, Dal Colle knows you just have to be in it to win it.

“Once you’re in, everyone has a chance,” said Dal Colle.  “We feel confident heading in.  We match up well with anyone in our division no matter who we play.”

(Forward Michael Dal Colle)

Right now, the focus is on Providence Bruins and trying to win two games to advance to round two.  Just getting to this point was significant for the organization and the prospects that one day hope to get the call to Long Island and be in the NHL.

But this team isn’t happy with just being here…they want to hoist a trophy.

“That’s what we’re playing for is for the playoffs and hopefully win the (Calder) Cup,” said Thompson.  “This is step one and it’s huge. It gives the young guys an opportunity to battle in the playoffs and see how intense that part of the game is.  It’s a big step and a big accomplishment.”

Step one for the Bridgeport Islanders begins on Monday.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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