For all the losses, the Sound Tigers season was not a complete and total washout.
There could have been a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth emanating from the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard after our local icemen finished with the worst record in the American Hockey League, but that was not the case.
The icemen finished the year with a dismal 30-39-4-7 mark. Their 30 win total was the worst in the league, although they did manage to nudge past the Albany Devils in total points by a 71-70 clip. So why is there any reason for optimism with the New York Islanders top farm club?
Injuries are one reason. Both the Islanders and the Sound Tigers were decimated by losing a wealth of players to the sideline due to an injury plague. That sad fact resulted in two situations occurring simultaneously.
The Islanders called up a number of Bridgeport’s top players, forcing the locals to scramble to fill out their roster nearly every week.
The Sound Tigers paid the price with a lousy record, but it also allowed many of their younger players the ice team needed to develop. By the time the end of the season rolled around, Bridgeport was playing its best hockey of the season and gave quarter to no team.
In fact, Bridgeport won eight of its final 12 games and capped the year off with a 4-3 win versus Albany its final game of the game of the season, fittingly before a large home crowd in Bridgeport. In that game, Mikko Koskinen made a season-high 46 saves in net and Tyler McNeely recorded a goal and two assists.
That allowed the Sound Tigers concluded their 10th anniversary season with wins in four of their last five games.
The Islanders rewarded McNeeley, last week by agreeing to terms with the forward on a one-year, two-way (NHL/AHL) contract. McNeely, 24 year-old a Northeastern University product, appeared in the final 10 games of the 2010-11 season with the Sound Tigers on an amateur tryout contract, scoring five goals and six assists (11 points) and posting a plus-9 rating.
These developments beg the question, why then fire the coach who led the team to this turnaround?
Let’s call this a tale of two coaches; two coaches who began the season together in Bridgeport.
On Nov. 15, the Long Islanders fired head coach Scott Gordon and replaced him with longtime Sound Tigers coach Jack Capuano, who was slapped with an interim label. Pat Bingham, Capuano’s top assistant, was tabbed to replace Capuano behind the Bridgeport bench.
At the time, Islanders General Manager Garth Snow said, ““We have made tremendous strides as a team this season under Jack’s direction and I’m confident that he’s the right person to lead the Islanders into the playoffs,” Jack’s work ethic and familiarity with the numerous players on our roster has eased his adjustment to the NHL and we look forward to him taking the Islanders to the next level.”
The first-year coach led the Islanders to a 26-29-10 record this season, including a 25-21-8 mark in their final 54 games and a 15-12-6 record after the All-Star Break.
“I’m extremely excited to remain the Head Coach of the Islanders,” Capuano said. “The organization has built a tremendous core of players here and I look forward to helping the Islanders become a consistent contender for years to come.”
During the same period, Bingham turned in a 24-30-11 record as the Sound Tigers skipper, numbers that are not too far away from those Capuano turned in the parent club. Apparently Snow, who also handles the Bridgeport personnel decisions didn’t think so.
Just days after Capuano was handed some job security in the National Hockey League by the Islanders, Snow jettisoned Bingham as head coach of the AHL Sound Tigers. It was a decision that caught most hockey observers off guard.
So, I guess the lesson here is that things don’t always finish up the way they start off.
Look at the Sound Tigers: they started off as the worst team in the AHL and finished up as one of the better teams in the league.
And if you don’t believe me, just ask former coach Pat Bingham.
See you at the games.