The Bridgeport Sound Tigers defense could be one of the strongest in the American Hockey League this season. The team posted a plus-14 goal differential in 2011-12, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference, despite relying heavily on rookies like Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness.
Part of the glue that held the young defensive corps together was none other than Ty Wishart, who has played a season-and-a-half in the Islanders organization. The 2006 first-round draft pick is in the midst of his seventh professional Training Camp, and now, as one of the most experienced players on a young team at age 24, has taken charge as a leader on the Sound Tigers blue line.
“I just try to bring as much energy as I can to the dressing room and on the ice,” Wishart said. “I do lots of talking out there to help the young guys when they need it. I’ve been around longer than most of these guys so leading just comes with the territory.”
Wishart came to the Islanders organization through a trade from Tampa Bay on January 2, 2011, and split the second half of the 2011-12 season between New York and Bridgeport, playing 20 games in each location. Last season, he appeared in 71 games for the Sound Tigers, scoring 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) while also helping younger defensemen transition into their professional careers.
Wishart has been paired with de Haan through most of Training Camp, as he was the majority of the 2011-12 campaign. de Haan, 21, says the chemistry the pair built during his rookie season helped him make a successful jump to the pro ranks.
“I think we complement each other really well,” de Haan said. “I like to think I’m more of a puck mover and he’s more of a defensive defenseman. If one of us makes a mistake, we’ll back the other up.”
Wishart was nearly a point-per-game player toward the end of his junior career with the Prince George Cougars and Moose Jaw Warriors, notching 116 points in 134 games over his last two seasons. At the pro level, he is relied upon more in his own end. In 290 professional games, the 6’5, 229-pound blueliner has learned how to use his frame, something that hasn’t been lost on Sound Tigers Head Coach Scott Pellerin.
WATCH:WISHART MIC'D UP AT PRACTICE
“He’s got a big body out there and he covers a lot of ice,” Pellerin said. “I’ve been really impressed with his leadership and ability to take charge in practice. I was impressed with his work ethic in our testing that we had earlier in Training Camp with our skating tests, and just his overall play. He’s going to have a lot of responsibility. I’m going to demand a lot out of him and will try and push him to get to that next level.”
Pellerin added that leaders like Wishart make his job as a coach easier.
“It’s good for me to have guys like him helping steer the ship in the right direction,” Pellerin said. “You need good leadership and it has to come from the locker room. It’s their team. At the end of the day you have to play for one another.”
The Sound Tigers roster currently boasts eight defensemen, six of which bring NHL experience to the table. Though the competition for top minutes will be stiff, Wishart welcomes the challenge because he knows the tight-knit group will get the best out of each other.
“It’s definitely going to be competitive,” Wishart said of the blue line battle. “But it’s healthy competition and I think the guys are handling it well. We’re all friends on and off the ice, and we want to push each other. That’s what healthy competition does.”
That competition should pick up even more as the Sound Tigers approach the season opener in Hartford on Friday, Oct. 12. Most likely, six of the eight defensemen in camp will be in the lineup Friday. With seven rookie forwards on the roster, the suddenly experienced blue line will be relied upon to provide stability in the Sound Tigers pursuit of s second consecutive Division Championship.
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