The Bridgeport Sound Tigers wrapped up Training Camp at Iceworks on Thursday, focusing on special teams before making the trip to Connecticut for the start of the regular season. The Sound Tigers open 2012-13 in Hartford against the rival Connecticut Whale on Friday, Oct. 12, before coming home to face the Providence Bruins the following night.
Friday’s game is the first of 10 between the in-state rivals. Last season, the Sound Tigers won 6-of-10 regular season matchups against Connecticut, but bowed out to their foes in the first round of the playoffs, something that defenseman Aaron Ness hasn’t forgotten about.
“There’s some history there, especially after last year,” Ness said. “It’s obviously fresh in our minds, so it should be a good test for us right away.”
Head Coach Scott Pellerin believes that Friday’s combination of Opening Night and the rivalry is the best way for players to get past their early jitters.
“I think everybody’s going to be ramped up and the energy level is going to be high,” Pellerin said. “I think it’s going to be a great way to start and set a mark on our season and challenge ourselves as a team.”
The first-year head coach has had just two weeks and two exhibition games since the beginning of Training Camp to implement his system and get the team up to speed. After those two weeks of evaluation, he is excited about this year’s squad.
“Defensive zone play, defensive structure and communication are the keys to our system,” Pellerin said. “I feel the guys have really bought into what we want to accomplish as a team. We did the homework so now we’re going to take the test.”
Thursday’s practice didn’t conclude with the typical bag skate the players have grown accustomed to under Pellerin. The squad worked less on conditioning and more on strategy to prepare for Friday.
“We’ve tried to taper it down a little bit because of the game tomorrow night,” Pellerin said. “We have an event tonight at Webster Bank Arena with our season ticket holders and the guys will be coming into town for that to get settled. We have a pregame skate and then we’re on the bus to Hartford. Things are moving really quickly so the way we practiced today was by design.”
Thursday night’s season ticket holder event will be the first team event in Bridgeport. For several rookies, like Johan Sundstrom, it will also be the first chance to see their new home.
“I’ve never been to Bridgeport but tonight we’ll get to go there and see the arena,” Sundstrom said. “I heard that it’s big and it’s nice so I’m looking forward to it.”
The Gothenburg, SWE native is ready to make his North American debut after playing the last two seasons in the Swedish Elite League.
“I’m really excited about this,” Sundstrom said. “I played two exhibition games, which was good for me. But I’ve got some butterflies in my stomach for sure. It’s going to be a rough game, a physical game and hopefully a fun game.”
Ness, who was a rookie in 2011-12, can’t wait for the puck to drop Friday night.
“You can only practice for so long before the itch comes back,” Ness said. “Everyone’s getting that feel for each other during practice and I think we’re ready system-wise. We’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
Before the Sound Tigers take the ice Friday, Pellerin has to set a lineup, something he says is still up in the air. The team has 16 forwards and eight defensemen, but only 18 skaters will be dressed for the game.
“Having the extra depth that we have in our lineup, it makes for some tough decisions,” Pellerin said. “I’m sure everybody’s kind of wondering what’s going to happen here. Our staff has to have a couple more meetings and then we’ll make the best lineup that we can for the weekend.”
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