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New beginning in B-port

by Jamie Palatini / New York Islanders
Taking a page out of their parent club's book, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers look to be a team full of young, fresh talent heading into this season. Of the current 20 players projected to be with the Sound Tigers who are currently under contract, only Dylan Reese and newly signed Trevor Frischmon are over 24 years of age.

In that case, Brent Thompson might be the perfect fit for the Sound Tigers.

Bridgeport Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Aces)
Bridgeport’s recently appointed head coach led the 2010-11 Alaska Aces - the youngest team in East Coast Hockey League history - to a Kelly Cup Championship over the Sound Tigers ECHL affiliate, the Kalamazoo Wings.

“We were young, hungry and wanted to work,” Thompson said, a former defenseman and second round (39th overall) pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. “I enjoy working with young players and young defensemen. I think Bridgeport’s a great fit for me and a great opportunity to work with a young and talented organization.”

Thompson split his first few seasons of professional hockey between the Kings and Phoenix Roadrunners of the now-defunct International Hockey League. Much like the young players that he will be working with in Bridgeport, he relates to the mindset that some players have as they look to the NHL.

“The biggest thing for these guys is patience,” explained Thompson. “When I played, I didn’t necessarily have that patience and wanted to be in the NHL right away. But was I ready? It’s important to master the level you’re at and then go to the next level. Maybe you need a year or two years or even that third year to truly develop your game. You can’t look up there (the NHL) if you haven’t done anything here.”

With a playing career that spanned 14 seasons, Thompson was known for his aggressive, hard-nosed style of play on the ice. He ranks seventh all-time in the AHL for most penalty minutes (2,084) in 635 career games. While he won’t necessarily ask all of his players to drop the gloves, Thompson does expect his players to exhibit other aspects of his game on the ice.

“I was always a guy who was very proud of how hard I worked, so for me I work very hard as a coach and my expectations are that we’ll be the hardest working team,” Thompson said. “And not just the hardest working team, but a team that sticks to the game plan, the process, and gets things done together.”

Brent Thompson coaches the Alaska Aces during the 2010-11 season from behind the bench.
Thompson continued, “I played with an edge and I like to think we’ll play with an edge this year. As much time as the guys want to put in, I’m going to be there doing it for them as well. If guys aren’t going to work, they’re not going to be very happy with me.”

Thompson isn’t the only new addition to the Sound Tigers coaching staff this season. Former Sound Tigers and Islanders center Eric Boguniecki was brought on to assist Thompson alongside incumbent assistant Matt Bertani.

“Eric and I played together in Louisville (AHL) with the Florida Panthers organization, and ever since we’ve kept in contact and built a strong relationship,” Thompson said. “I was in my first season in Alaska (2009-10) and needed a player/coach. I knew he wanted to get into the coaching world and get his feet in the door. Eric was great in Alaska and played and did coaching as well, and I was fortunate enough that (Islanders General Manager) Garth (Snow) hired him here.

Boguniecki’s playing background is as storied and impressive as Thompson’s, but the 5’8” center made his mark at the offensive end of the ice, earning AHL MVP honors with 84 points in 68 games with Worcester during the 2001-02 season.

“I’ve got a great assistant with me with a different mindset, an offensive vision to the game,” Thompson said. “Like me, he’s great with helping along the young guys, and I expect he’ll be key with the power play this season. I feel very fortunate to have both Matt (Bertani) and Eric (Boguniecki).

Thompson’s crossed paths with many members of the organization, including current Islanders defenseman Milan Jurcina, who he played alongside for the Providence Bruins in 2004-05, and K-Wings head coach Nick Bootland, whom Thompson defeated this year to win the Kelly Cup.

“I have a lot of respect for Nick Bootland, who I played with back in Hershey at the old Hersheypark Arena,” Thompson said. “He was a competitor just like me, so it was cool to coach against him in the finals. Even today, it was great to see Milan (Jurcina) who was my defensive partner in my final year in Providence. I feel like I played a part in him making it to the NHL, whether it was a coincidence or not. I get a sense of accomplishment when I feel I had something to do with a player’s career in a positive way.”

To me, the priority is development. They need to be ready when they get called to the Islanders; we need to make sure we have the guys in the proper roles in Bridgeport. Within that, we can definitely win. If the players stick to the details and habits in games and play well, everyone will benefit and develop. - Brent Thompson
Seventeen players played for both the Sound Tigers and the Islanders during the 2010-11 season. Thompson understands that preparing the Islanders prospects for the NHL is his primary task, and knows that if players buy in, the wins will come.

“To me, the priority is development,” Thompson said. “They need to be ready when they get called to the Islanders; we need to make sure we have the guys in the proper roles in Bridgeport. Within that, we can definitely win. If the players stick to the details and habits in games and play well, everyone will benefit and develop.”

Thompson continued, “It’s not necessarily the result of winning that we want to focus on, it is how we play and how we will get to that point. If the players buy in and realize it will make them better individual players, it will make our team better.”

With seven years of coaching experience and 14 seasons under his belt as a player, Thompson has all the credentials needed to take the Sound Tigers to the next level in 2011-12.
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