By Bloomberg 1130's Chris King
I spent some time with Bridgeport Sound Tigers head coach Dave Bassegio recently to find out how his first month as an AHL head coach had gone, and to have him give me an update on some of the Islanders' top prospects playing at The Bridge.
CK: For the last four years as an assistant coach at Bridgeport you've worked so closely with Rick DiPietro, Trent Hunter, Chris Campoli and Eric Godard. What is it like to watch them play here now in the NHL?
DB: I love it. I think that's great. It's one of the most satisfying aspects of your job. Obviously those guys got here because they worked hard and they have talent and they deserve to be here. But just to think you may have played a small part in their development, and to have been with them along the way to help them through some growing pains is just so satisfying. I hope to see more of the guys who are in Bridgeport go up to New York because it's the fun part of your job.
CK: You spent so much time with Chris Campoli as a rookie AHL defenseman last year in Bridgeport, and now he is thriving as a rookie NHL defenseman with the Islanders. Is he the one guy you are most proud of?
DB: Chris certainly has a soft spot in my heart because he is a defenseman like I was. We did spend a lot of hours in my office watching videos and a lot of time after practice working on specific skills. He is deserving of everything he gets. He is one of the hardest-working kids you'll ever find. After practice, he is like a little puppy dog coming after you looking for more drills to do so he can get better. He just wants it so bad. I'll use a basketball analogy to describe him he's like an NBA player that wants to have the ball in his hands to take the last shot with one second left on the clock to win the game. Chris just wants the puck the same way somebody wants to take that shot. He's only going to get better and he's going to be a heck of a defenseman for the Islanders.
CK: How have you made the transition from player to coach?
DB: I played eleven years of professional hockey, all in the minors and a couple of years in Europe. I wasn't good enough to play in the NHL, but I was lucky enough to make a living at it. I met some great people along the way and had a lot of fun. Playing hockey for a living is the greatest job in the world, and I think I have the second-best job coaching. I'm still down in the heat of the battle, and I'm part of the team atmosphere in the heat of the moment. It's a lot of fun. I was lucky enough to play for eleven seasons and I don't regret one second of it. It's like a childhood dream. Obviously I would have loved to play an NHL game, but it didn't happen. But this is still a great way to go through life.
CK: You spent two years as an assistant coach under Steve Stirling and two years under Greg Cronin two very different head coaches. What did you take from each of them in your first job as an AHL head coach?
DB: You hit the nail on the head they are two totally different coaching styles and personalities. It was great because I learned from one end of the coaching spectrum all the way to the other. But the biggest thing I learned from both of them was that you have to be yourself. You can't change because of your title, and you have to do what you believe in. You have to have conviction and coach that way, with your own ethics, morals, beliefs and philosophies. You have to handle coaching decisions the same way you handle things in life. Steve is more the professorial type and laid back a little bit, where Greg is a very fiery, in-your-face type of coach. I think there is a time and a place for both styles, but they were both very successful just being themselves, and that's what I have to do. I have to be myself and do what I believe in.
CK: Has this team turned the corner?
DB: The last little stretch of games here, I think we are really figuring out our identity and the little things that it takes to win hockey games. I think we are getting some chemistry, and it helps that the older, veteran players are coming back. Allan Rourke, Wyatt Smith and Travis Brigley were all injured and they are just now hitting their stride and playing very well. Unfortunately we lost Justin Papineau with a shoulder injury, but we are starting to come together as a group. I think we now realize what it takes to win in the American Hockey League every night.
CK: How has Sean Bergenheim been playing so far?
DB: Sean was also disappointed when he got sent down, but he handled it a little differently. As a younger kid at just 21 years old, he was a little bit upset and it showed that he was upset. Unlike Justin Papineau who came down and has been through it a little bit, it took Sean a little while to snap out of it, so to speak. But he's starting to play well again. He's a big strong kid with good speed and he goes to the net well. That's what he has to do on a consistent basis to get back to the NHL and I think he is on his way.
CK: Bruno Gervais was the last defenseman cut by the Islanders each of the last two seasons. How has he started the season for you?
DB: Bruno's been great, he's been a workhorse. We've had injuries back there to our veteran D, and sometimes he's begging to come off, but we keep throwing him back out there (laughs). For a 21-year old kid to play 25-30 minutes a night, he's been a rock back there. He's really leveled out his game as far as consistency goes from shift in, to period in, to game in and game out. He's playing power play, penalty kill, and against the other teams' top lines. He's done a great job and you'll be calling his name on Long Island sometime in the not-too-distant future.
CK: Last season Bruno played the entire year paired with Chris Campoli. How much did that help his development?
DB: I think they really helped each other. Bruno is a lot like Chris he's a sponge, a hard-working kid as well. He just wants to learn and get better. I think Chris is a better skater than Bruno and that's probably why he's made the jump to the NHL quicker and easier than Bruno has. Bruno is a very safe, solid defenseman who adds some offense as well. But they're both going to be very good defensemen for the Islanders for a very long time.
CK: What about Ryan Caldwell, who had an inconsistent rookie year in 2004-05?
DB: Ryan has been better as far as his consistency level. The new rules are helping him, because he can jump up in the play and he has a great first pass. He can follow the puck well and he's played some power play for us. He's got a sprained MCL that will slow him down for a few weeks, but he has been a lot better. Ryan does have to get bigger and stronger to handle the NHL-size forwards coming down on him, but he is definitely making strides in the right direction.
CK: How has Jeremy Colliton fared in his rookie year as a pro?
DB: He's been great. He's probably one of our smartest players, and he's going to be a real good pro. He knows the game, he understands the game, and he's coachable. If there is a little downside, it's his quickness, and he's working on that. He works on his game every day in practice. He's been a great penalty killer he's one of the first guys we throw out there. He's also very good on faceoffs. He's going to be a very good NHL player if we just give him a little bit of time to work on his game and get things ironed out as far as his skating goes. He's a pleasure to coach.
CK: When I last talked to Wade Dubielewicz, he was just raving about the play of young Masi Marjamaki, the Isles fifth round pick in 2005.
DB: Masi missed a few games after separating a shoulder in practice a few weeks ago, but he's been great. He's just starting to hit his stride again. He's a big, strong, energetic kid who goes hard, skates well and has a pretty good shot. He's still learning the game a little bit. He's making his mistakes, but they're all hard-working ones the ones you're okay with as a coach they're not lazy mistakes. He's a good kid, and he has a very good chance to play in the NHL if he just keeps his work ethic up, keeps improving his skills and doing what he does best driving to the net, finishing his checks, and playing hard.
CK: Give us an update on your goaltending situation. Wade Dubielewicz has some rough numbers early on, and Chris Madden has been the hot guy of late.
DB: Stats are like a bikini they are revealing but they don't show everything. Wade's stats are not very impressive if you look at them on paper, but he's been pretty good in the net. I keep telling him to not get down on himself. He's been the victim of some bad games that the team has played. He's played twice against the best team in the league Wilkes-Barre and we got blown out both games. He played a great game against Manchester and we still lost they had 31 shots on him in the second period alone. So he's been OK, but Chris Madden has won his last few starts, and as a coach you have to keep going with the guy who is giving you wins. But Wade will be ready to go when called on. Goaltending hasn't been issue they've both been fine. They're both good goalies and will be good the rest of the year.