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Leadership will have many faces in Bridgeport

by Jamie Palatini / New York Islanders

Leadership is an intangible in hockey that is vital to the success of a team. Regardless of how things shake out following training camp, the Sound Tigers will be a team made up of mostly young, talented prospects in their first few seasons of pro hockey.

It’s unchartered waters for a team which has had two-time AHL all-star and 17-year veteran Mark Wotton wear the “C” for the past five seasons. Wotton will not be the one wearing the “C” in Bridgeport this year, leaving the door open for new players to fill that role.

Leadership behind the bench will be different as well this season. Head coach Brent Thompson and assistant coach Eric Boguniecki both enter their first year in those positions at the American Hockey League level. Thompson led the Alaska Aces of the East Coast Hockey League to a Kelly Cup Championship last season, and believes the leadership begins with himself, Boguniecki and assistant coach Matt Bertani.

“Leadership is taught, and the coaching staff will be the main leaders,” Thompson said. “Our players will be an extension, and I’d love for some of the younger players to learn from that. A leader is someone who approaches the game professionally, he approaches practice professional, and his habits and his attention to detail are impeccable. A guy who strives for perfection and demands it from himself and his teammates…that’s a leader.”

One player who may be a natural fit for that role if he does not crack the Islanders lineup to start the season is Sound Tigers all-time leading scorer Jeremy Colliton. Colliton is third all-time in games played with the Sound Tigers, and has worn the “A” for parts of all five seasons he’s been a member of the Sound Tigers, four of those with former captain Mark Wotton.

“You spend enough time with a guy such as Mark, you can’t help but learn a lot,” Colliton explained. “I’m going to be the same guy I’ve always been. I believe that you do as you say and you’ve got to be honest with people, and sometimes you have to tell people things they don’t want to hear. And if you praise them when it’s warranted, they’re more receptive to what you’re saying and what you’re offering.”

Newcomers to the Islanders organization who could potentially provide some leadership in Bridgeport throughout the season are Trevor Frischmon and Tim Wallace.  Frischmon comes to the Islanders after five seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. The Ham Lake, Minn. native was a steady presence with Columbus’ American Hockey League affiliates Syracuse and Springfield the past three seasons, appearing in 235 of 240 games.

“I take pride in what I do on the ice, and I think from a leadership standpoint I’ve always liked to lead by example,” said Frischmon, who appeared in all 80 games with the Springfield Falcons last season. “I like to show the younger guys how you need to work and practice and take care of yourself off the ice, help to guide them through pro hockey. I was a captain in college and in juniors, an assistant captain the past couple years so it’s something I’m comfortable with.”

Wallace’s story is similar to that of Frischmon’s, having spent the past five seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. The Anchorage, Alaska native was a 20-goal scorer the past two seasons in Wilkes-Barre (AHL), and donned the “A” with the Penguins last season.

“Leadership is the key to success. In order to win, you need a core group of leaders,” Wallace said. “I was an assistant captain in Wilkes-Barre and I know what it takes to be a leader. I lead by example and want to work hard to get as many wins as we can whether that’s in Bridgeport or on Long Island.”

Two younger players who could end up in Bridgeport that are more familiar with the Webster Bank Arena ice are Justin DiBenedetto and Tomas Marcinko. DiBenedetto appeared in nine games with the Islanders last season and both are vying for spots on the Island to start the year. Although both of them are just 23 years old, Marcinko and DiBenedetto rank third and fourth respectively amongst current Islanders/Sound Tigers in games played in Bridgeport.

Those are just five possible players that could take that leadership role this season. Thompson says that age doesn’t play any role, and he embraces the prospects of a group of leaders to take the lead, regardless of who wears letters on the sweaters.

“I think the more leaders you have the better, and you find the best leaders are your best followers,” Thompson explained. “We want people who have high character. You want to get a feel for a team, I’m a big believer in a group and if you get four or six guys who are an extension of you, the locker room is in a better place.”

Colliton believes the Sound Tigers will be a successful team this season with Thompson at the helm, regardless of who makes the cut to start the year.

“(Thompson’s) obviously had a lot of success. If you know what it takes to win, you can teach others," Colliton said. "To me, that’s the most important skill you can learn. How to win…it’s a million different things and its one thing. No matter whether you’re young or old, if there is certain things you have to do to win and its non-negotiable, you do it. And that’s how you win.”
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