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Taking advantage of opportunities

by Jamie Palatini / New York Islanders
A player’s career often depends on what he does with the opportunities that come his way. These opportunities present themselves in many forms and can last for a game or an entire season in some cases. Last season, many players got those opportunities with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Here are a few players that made the most of their opportunities and translated them into a place within the Islanders organization. 

Gallant began last season with the Elmira Jackals of the East Coast Hockey League before a midseason trade to the Reading Royals. He brought his 132 penalty minutes in 25 ECHL games to Bridgeport in early February and immediately showed his worth on a team that was in need of a physical presence.

“You just go up a level and try to do whatever they want you to do so you can stick up there,” Gallant explained. “That’s what I tried to do with the Sound Tigers. I spoke with the coaching staff towards the end of the season and they were real happy with me.”

The Sound Tigers endured a difficult start to 2011 with just three wins in January and February, but went on to earn points in 12 of their last 15 games. Gallant sparked that run when he deflected a point shot in Providence for his first AHL point and goal en route to a 5-1 win.

One of the more modest guys around, Gallant said he was surprised to earn a contract with the Sound Tigers this season. Was the 6’0” 200-pound bruiser, who’s netted two goals in 81 professional games, shocked when he found the back of the net in Providence?

“No way,” Gallant joked. “C’mon, have you seen me play? I score goals all the time.”

Tyler McNeely skates at Islanders Mini-Camp held at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.
Perhaps the most impressive player to join the Sound Tigers on an amateur tryout contract late last season, Tyler McNeely looked more like an AHL veteran rather than a kid fresh off his senior season at Northeastern University.

“For me, the focus was just to come in and try to play as well as I could,” McNeely said. “It was definitely a little easier with some other college guys there.”

McNeely broke out in a big way against the eventual Calder Cup Champion Binghamton Senators on April 2. The 5’10” 175-pound forward scored twice in the third period, including the game-winner with 1:23 left in regulation. His work wasn’t done though, as McNeely made a pivotal play to kill a 6-on-3 Binghamton advantage to end the game.

“I look back on it now and it’s a pretty good story,” he said.

The Burnaby, B.C. native recorded five goals and six assists in the Sound Tigers final six games of the season. It’s no coincidence that in those final six games, McNeely was put on the top line with Jeremy Colliton and Rhett Rakhshani.

“When you play with guys like that, they give you a lot of insight,” he said. “I was brought into a situation and they helped me a lot. They gave me the tools to succeed.”

Olson joined the Sound Tigers two weeks after Gallant’s arrival in late February. The 6’4”, 215-pound blue-liner made an immediate impact, providing size in front of the Sound Tigers net and taking on the likes of Jordan Nolan and Joel Rechlicz. Olson said having someone similar to him on the team and someone that he knew certainly helped.

“I have a lot of respect for (Brett Gallant), a guy that does what I do,” Olson said, who had actually fought Gallant in the ECHL during the 2009-10 season. “We were together at Syracuse training camp together last year and I got to know him a little better.”

Now he’ll have Gallant on his side for a full season and Olson couldn’t be more thrilled.

This summer when I saw that he (Brett Gallant) had already signed with the Sound Tigers, it made me that much more excited. It’ll be great to have another guy on the ice that plays how I do and will work together with me. - Benn Olson
“This summer when I saw that he had already signed with the Sound Tigers, it made me that much more excited. It’ll be great to have another guy on the ice that plays how I do and will work together with me.”

While Art Bidlevksii didn’t earn a pro contract with the Islanders orgnization like the previous three players (Bidlevskii is just 19 and has a year of juniors remaining), his play in 10 games with the Sound Tigers last year earned him an invite to the 2011 Islanders Mini-Camp.

“Last year, I set my goal to have an NHL team take a look at me,” Bidlevskii said. “New York called last season and said we’d love to bring you to Bridgeport at the end of the year. It was an exciting time for me but I knew I had worked hard for it.”

Similar to Olson, Bidlevskii is a physical defenseman who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. He had knockouts in his first two fights with the Sound Tigers, immediately earning the team’s respect. During the close of the season and here at Isles Mini-Camp, Bidlevskii grew close with former tough defenseman Eric Cairns, currently a member of the Islanders player development staff.

“He’s a crucial guy here for me,” Bidlevskii said regarding Cairns. “He played the same style that I play and he’s one of the guys that gave me this chance and works pretty closely with me. I can learn a lot from him and his past experiences.”
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