After two weeks of eager anticipation, Kyle Okposo
, the Islanders' 2006 first round draft pick took to the ice for the first time on Thursday morning with his new team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders' American Hockey League Affiliate.
Strapping on his skates for the first time as a pro player, Okposo fit right in, playing alongside some familiar faces at Bridgeport's Arena at Harbor Yard. Over the past two summers, Okposo has participated in the Islanders Prospects Camp, competing with players like Jeff Tambellini, Frans Nielsen
, Dustin Kohn, Jeremy Colliton
“It felt great to be out there and begin my pro career,” Okposo told NEWYORKISLANDERS.COM after practice. “Because of my experience in the Prospects Camp, I felt more at home than if I came in here cold. I know a lot of the guys, like Jeff Tambellini, so that made me feel very comfortable. After five days between games, and then traveling from the Czech Republic to Minnesota and now here, it might take a little while to get adjusted, but it'll be okay."
Following some initial warm-up drills, the players were broken into the lines set to play Friday night in Binghamton.
Okposo, wearing a red jersey, was placed on the first line's right wing, with Nielsen centering and Tambellini on the left. Tambellini ranks second in the AHL with 22 goals and fifth with 41 points. Nielsen, a native of Denmark, is first on Bridgeport with 20 assists and a +4 rating. Earlier in the week, Okposo expressed his excitement to Tambellini on the phone about joining the Sound Tigers. Thursday morning, that excitement became a reality.
“To jump right in, have a practice and then leave with the team for a road game on my second day is very exciting,” said Okposo. “It’s a great way to get acclimated to my teammates and the coaching staff.”
Said Tambellini, who will share his house with Okposo: "As a team, we see it as a responsibility that Kyle feels comfortable and that he's ready for this level."
The entire team practiced for 50 minutes. Okposo followed the team practice up with a personal bag skate with Bridgeport head coach Jack Capuano and assistant coach Bernie Cassell.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Kyle has the skill and determination to be a great hockey player," said Capuano. "When Garth and Ted make the call, we will have made sure that Kyle is ready for everything."
On Friday, Okposo is expected to play in his first professional game, when the Sound Tigers visit the Binghamton Senators for a 7:05 pm start. The following day, Okposo will make his home debut, when Bridgeport hosts Springfield at 7 pm. The Sound Tigers will play a third consecutive night on Sunday, with a 4 pm matinee matchup against Binghamton in Bridgeport.
Capuano said it’s important to balance the excitement over Okposo’s arrival with the task at hand. “Kyle is a tremendous young hockey player, make no mistake,” said Capuano. “It’s a great shot in the arm for us to add a player like him to our lineup and his development is very important to us. Let’s give him time. Let him enjoy the game while he’s working on it. This is a fun time for Kyle, the Sound Tigers and the Islanders and it’s going to be a great ride. I have a feeling there will be more than a few fans from Long Island at our game on Saturday.” The Connecticut Post's Michael Fornabaio caught up with Kyle, Wednesday night at the Bridgeport-Portland game. Click here to access the Q & A.
Mark Herrmann of Newsday and Dave Caldwell of the New York Times were in Bridgeport today, so look for their coverage on the web tonight and in Friday’s papers. Katie Strang also shot footage and interviews today for newsday.com. For the best daily coverage of the Sound Tigers, read beat writer Mike Fornabaio in the Connecticut Post (connpost.com).
NEWYORKISLANDERS.COM will have reports from Binghamton on Friday and from Bridgeport on Saturday and Sunday of Kyle Okposo’s first three games with the Sound Tigers. Islanders TV was on the scene in full force, so check back to Islanders TV later today to catch highlights and interviews from Kyle's first practice with Bridgeport.A HANDY GUIDE TO VISITING BRIDGEPORTGet to the Game
To purchase tickets to Okposo's first two games with Bridgeport, please call the Arena at Harbor Yard box office at 203-334-2400 or visit Ticketmaster.com.
For those planning on taking the Port Jefferson Ferry to the Bridgeport games this weekend, click here
for a special discount.
Word out of Bridgeport is that the last boat's departure from Bridgeport back to Port Jefferson on Saturday has been pushed back to 9:45 to accommodate those attending the Sound Tigers game.Dining Near Arena at Harbor Yard
Looking to grab some food before or after the game, these places come highly recommended by the Sound Tigers players and management. To watch the games live online, visit B2TV.com for pay per view options. Check back to Islanders TV on Monday for the complete games from Friday and Saturday, as well as exclusive interviews with Kyle and analysis from Sound Tigers announcers throughout the weekend.