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THE KIDS ARE MORE THAN ALRIGHT

by Staff Writer / New York Islanders

Top forward prospects Tambellini, Nielsen, Okposo, Walter and Colliton will be ready when the call comes, says Sound Tigers coach Jack Capuano

by Jay Norton

Kyle Okposo
Jack Capuano talks about his "other" kids like a proud papa.

By "other," we don’t mean his daughter Adrianna and son Anthony, but rather his crew of top Islanders forward prospects, which includes Jeff Tambellini, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, Ben Walter, Jeremy Colliton and the rest.

"My job is to get these kids ready for the Islanders," said the Sound Tigers head coach during a break in Saturday preparations for a night game in Hartford (The Sound Tigers beat the Rangers' AHL affiliate tonight, 2-1, in a shootout behind spectacular goaltending from Joey MacDonald. "When the Islanders are ready for them, they’ll be ready for the Islanders."

Capuano, a former Islanders assistant coach, is particularly proud of his corps of young forwards for reasons that go beyond their talents.

"Attitude and commitment," he says. "The key to developing in the American Hockey League is working hard every day to get better and better. As a coaching staff, we look forward to coming to the rink because the kids like Frans, Tamby, Kyle, Ben Walter, Jeremy Colliton...they always have that look in their eye – the look that says they want to get better."

Jeff Tambellini
No one personifies that more than Jeff Tambellini, the leading goal scorer in the American Hockey League (with 28, after another two-goal game on Friday night). Acquired in the Mark Parrish trade two years ago, the 23-year old Tambellini continues to open eyes with his goal-scoring wizardry and earn a reputation as one of the best teammates around. He recently welcomed Okposo, the team’s 2006 first round pick, into his home when Okposo left the University of Minnesota and joined the Sound Tigers. Tambellini, known as a finisher, also has 28 assists this season and is fourth in points in the AHL.

Frans Nielsen (14-25-39 points in 42 games) is third on Bridgeport and 36th in scoring in the AHL; not bad, but Nielsen's game is about so much more than scoring. The first Danish born-and-raised hockey player to make it to the NHL, Nielsen is one of those heady centers who does everything well and makes everyone around him better. As he illustrated with his shootout goal for the Islanders last season, he also has an underrated set of hands.

Okposo, considered by most experts to be the Islanders’ top prospect at any level of hockey and one of the best prospects in the game, is 2-8-10 in his first 11 games with the Sound Tigers. He has flashed all of the skill and demonstrated all of the power that scouts love about him. As he continues to grow more accustomed to the pro game – Okposo is still just 19 yars old – he’s only going to get better.

Jeremy Colliton
Nielsen centers the Sound Tigers No. 1 line with Tambellini and Okposo, but the Islanders forward prospects do not end there. Center Ben Walter, acquired with a conditional draft pick in the Petteri Nokeklainen trade with Boston, is the Sound TIgers' second leading scorer. Walter, a skilled two-way center, is 14-26-40 in 42 games in Bridgeport this season. "Ben is one of those players you can throw out in any situation - first line and fourth line, power play and checking role - and you have the confidence he'll do the job," said Capuano.

Checking center Jeremy Colliton is not going to wow anyone with his stats (6 goals and 3 assists in 47 games this season), but he is a favorite of Capuano's for playing through injury and excelling at shutting down opposing snipers. "Jeremy's been through a lot this season," said Capuano, "and shown a lot this season. He just turned 23 and is still a very strong prospect."

The Islanders forward prospects in Bridgeport have impressed since the start of the season. Despite icing one of the youngest teams in the AHL - the blue line is led by up-and-comer Dustin Kohn, who turned 21 tonight - Capuano's Sound Tigers are still in the hunt for a playoff berth. That's because they fight to the end, as they did tonight when shootout goals from Okposo and Trevor Smith (another Islanders prospect) sealed the deal. That's also because of the drive of each of the young players to earn a roster spot on Long Island.

"We have never hid our objective here," said Capuano, who graduated Blake Comeau to the Islanders earlier this season. "Of course we want to win games, but first and foremost we are developing players and people for the New York Islanders. When a player leaves here for Long Island, my staff and I want to sit back and watch the games and have the satisfaction of knowing we played a part in bringing along an NHLer."

Whether it's next season or sooner, it seems only a matter of time.




AMILY FUN PACK FOR KIDS' DAY, TOO - Feb. 18

With school off on Presidents', there is no better way to spend a day with the whole family than taking in an exciting Islanders game at the Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders have put together a special Family Fun Pack for Kids' Day, Too on February 18 when the Islanders meet the San Jose Sharks,  to get you and three others to the game. The Family Fun Pack includes:
  • 4 tickets
  • 1 Dave & Buster's $40 Power Card Voucher
  • 1 Friendly's $25 Gift Card
  • Valued at $265, the Family Fun Pack can be purchased for just $124

For those interested in purchasing a Family Fun Pack, please contact the customer service department at 1.800.882.ISLES EXT. 2 or customerservice@newyorkislanders.com



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