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Homecoming for eight former Sound Tigers

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Like many hockey players playing professionally, Frans Nielsen didn’t make the roster his first year pro. Instead, he came up through the system under Islanders current Head Coach Jack Capuano, who at the time was the Head Coach of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Now, after three full seasons with the Islanders, Nielsen and seven of his teammates return to where their careers began, Webster Bank Arena.

“It’s going to be fun to go back there,” Nielsen said. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my time down there. I learned a lot. I’ll have some friends in the stands, people I met when I was down there and haven’t seen in a long time. They mean a lot to all of us, so hopefully they are proud of us too that we made it this far.”

Tomas Kaberle looks to block a shot by Blake Comeau at the Nassau Coliseum on March 11, 2011. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Nielsen spent the majority of his first two seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. In 54 games his rookie campaign (2006-07), the Danish center scored 20 goals (4 PPG, 3 SHG, 3 GWG), 24 assists and recorded a +7 rating. In 48 games his second season, Nielsen scored 10 goals (2 PPG), 28 assists and recorded a +6 rating.

Blake Comeau also began his pro career with the Sound Tigers in 2006-07. In 61 games, he scored 12 goals (4 PPG, 2 SHG, 1 GWG), 31 assists and 46 penalty minutes. While he spent most of his time with the Islanders in his second and third pro seasons, Comeau still saw game action on the Sound Tigers stage. He played 31 games in 2007-08 and 19 games in 2008-09. Both seasons, he recorded 4 goals and 15 assists for 19 points.

“It feels good to go back there,” Comeau said. “That’s where a lot of us started our pro careers and had a chance to develop. I was drafted with a lot of guys and had the chance to play with a lot of guys that have come up through the organization and that’s the place a lot of us started, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Andrew MacDonald joined the Sound Tigers after his final year in Moncton. In 21 games that first year (2007-08), MacDonald scored 2 goals and 3 assists and recorded a +1 rating. However, the defenseman was reassigned to the Utah Grizzlies and saw time in 37 ECHL games. The very next season, MacDonald recorded 9 goals (7 PPG), 24 assists and recorded a +7 rating in 69 games and was rewarded with time in three NHL games.

“Everyone is really excited to get back there,” MacDonald said. “A number of guys in this room got their start there and if it wasn’t for Bridgeport, then we probably wouldn’t be where we are right now. I’m pretty grateful for that. It’s going to be nice to go back there and put on a show for the fans.”

Brad Marchand watches the play against Michael Haley #18 of the New York Islanders at the TD Garden on September 23, 2011. (Photo by Steve Babineau/Getty Images)
MacDonald’s third year pro (2009-10) would prove to be his last in the AHL. In 21 games, the defenseman scored 2 goals and 6 assists before receiving his final call-up mid November. That season, he went on to play 46 games for the Islanders.

“The fans saw us come in as a 20 or 21-year-old and saw us grow into the players we are now, so I’m sure that’s a pretty exciting thing for them to be able to come see us play,” MacDonald said.

Undrafted, Micheal Haley came up through the pro ranks by way of the ECHL and joined the Sound Tigers in the 2007-08 season, where he scored 2 goals and 2 assists in 36 games and added 75 penalty minutes. Haley’s next season was also split between the AHL and ECHL, but in 45 games for the Sound Tigers, he scored 5 goals and 3 assists and added 99 penalty minutes.

At the start of the 2009-10 season, Haley made a big jump in his career. He earned a two-way NHL/AHL contract. He played 65 games for the Sound Tigers and scored 6 goals and 8 assists, adding 196 penalty minutes. At the end of the season, he got his first taste of the NHL, playing in two games for the Islanders. Then, after 50 games for the Sound Tigers last season, posting 12 goals (7 PPG), 10 assists and 144 penalty minutes, Haley got the call-up to the Islanders, where he finished the season with 27 NHL games (2 goals, 1 assist, 85 PIM).

Another defenseman in the Islanders organization and wore the Sound Tigers jersey last season, Dylan Reese will be in the lineup tonight. He had already played more than three seasons in the American Hockey League, but had not earned time in the NHL. After one game with the Sound Tigers, Reese received a call-up from the Islanders and played in 19 games. Last season, Reese was a regular call-up for the Islanders, but still received playing time in 37 Sound Tigers games, where he recorded 4 goals (1 PPG) and 14 assists.

Travis Hamonic skates with the puck against Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on April 6, 2011. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Drafted by the Islanders in 2008, Travis Hamonic didn’t set out on his pro career until last season and after just 19 games, recording 2 goals (1 PPG), 5 assists and 45 penalty minutes, Hamonic received his lone call-up and became a force on the Islanders blue line.

Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey also have a brief history with the Sound Tigers. In 35 games during the 2007-08 season, Okposo scored 9 goals (4 PPG) and 19 assists. In 11 games last season, Bailey scored 6 goals (3 PPG, 1 SHG, 1 GWG) and 11 assists and earned a +5 rating.

Capuano was named Head Coach of the Sound Tigers on April 30, 2007. In four seasons, he led the AHL club to a 133-100-8-14 record. Returning to Webster Bank Arena, Capuano will be behind the bench as all eight former Sound Tigers will dress in tonight’s game.

“It’s the last game of the preseason,” MacDonald said. “So at this point, guys should be well aware of the systems and really try to minimize the mistakes. There will obviously be some out there at certain times, but the important thing is to work hard.”
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