At the end of last year, the Bridgeport SoundTigers with an influx of youthful prospects had an okay end to their season. Even so, at the time there were players whose future with the Islanders were unknown, like Casey Cizikas. This season though has to be considered a success beyond most people's predictions for the team. Nearly every rookie had a promising season. The few vets remaining on the team helped show the youngsters the way. Finally when replacements were needed, BP hit gold multiple times on tryout offers.
This is the first time BP has won their division since their inaugural year of 01-02. That year found them 3 points ahead of their in state rivals, the Hartford Wolfpack. Despite a good chunk of promising young players being on the team, in hindsight the most important players were Trent Hunter and Rick DiPietro. The rest of the team consisted of the Justin Mapleloft's and Jason Krogs of the hockey world; great in the minors but invisible elsewhere. That team made it all the way to the finals before losing to the Chicago Wolves 3-2.
Friday April 13th Vs Providence (Bruins) W 4-1
Never ones to make things easy, despite the final score which included an empty netter. BP allowed 14 shots in the 1st and 2nd, then survived the storm of 19 Providence shots in the 3rd period. Rhett Rhakshani (John Persson) opened scoring in the first. A PP goal by Tony Romano (Rhakshani, Matt Donovan) gave them all the goals they needed to win. Ty Wishart (Kael Mouilierat) answered Providence's lone goal in the 3rd period with a goal to make it 3-1and just about ice the game. Aaron Ness (Persson, Rhakshan) got the empty netter for the final score. Rakhshani was 1st star and Kevin Poulin was 2nd star of the night.
Saturday April 14th Vs Wilkes/Barre (Penguins) L 3-2
With nothing to play for, Ken Reiter come on down. Reiter got his first pro start after spending the last few years at Minnesota-Duluth. Mike Halmo (Sean Backman, Steve Olesky) opened scoring less then 30 seconds into the first. But the baby pens answered back about 2 minutes later to knot things up. They would score 2 more goals before the 3rd to open up the game. Tyler McNeely (Matt Donovan, Tony Romano) got things close, but BP couldn't punch in that final goal despite outshooting WB 12-6 in the 3rd.
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The Niagra Icedogs are on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to Ryan Strome's 6 assist outburst in the final two games of the series with Brampton. On Tuesday he was the 2nd star of the night as he assisted on 4 of Niagra's 6 goals. On Thursday he had 2 assists and was 1st star of the night as Niagra won 3-1. Strome is currently 5th in OHL playoff scoring with 17 points (6 G, 11 A) in 10 playoff games.
Kirill Kabanov's Shawinigan Cataractes are in a tough series with Chictoumi, although they now lead 3 games to 2. Kabanov notched an assist in games on Monday and Wednesday. On Friday he added a goal as Shawinigan routed Chictoumi 7-3. Kabanov has 13 points (4 G, 9 A) in 9 playoff games, not too far off his 20 points in 15 games pace from last years playoffs.
A Look Back: Casey Cizikas
Last year as an overager in the QMJHL there was a bit of disappointment about Cizikas. With a year in age over most of the other players, he still finished the season with roughly the same point total from the previous year (but with 16 less games). Now though he finishes his first season with an incredible 44 points in the AHL. If not for a 16 game stint in the NHL, during which he racked up 4 assists, he would probably be leading all rookies in scoring still.
He also proved that he is more then an offensive force. His +25 on the season leads all SoundTigers with only Rakhshani's +24 coming close. Among the Islanders his 4 points put him ahead of Jay Pandolfo, even with Mark Eaton and just 2 points behind Marty Reasoner, all players who finished the year with 60+ games played. As a former 4th round pick and someone who spent all 4 years in Juniors, Cizikas might have been judged to be a long term project. His first year as a pro was just about as promising as it could come, another reason to hope for a bright future.