Sound Tigers Open 18th Season this Weekend
ALLENTOWN, Penn. - The Bridgeport Sound Tigers, proud American Hockey League affiliate of the New York Islanders, open their 18th season this weekend with two games in Pennsylvania, beginning tonight with a 7:05 p.m. matchup against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the PPL Center. The team then continues west for a 5 p.m. contest against the Hershey Bears at Giant Center on Sunday.
After going 36-32-5-3 and finishing fifth in the Atlantic Division in 2017-18, the Sound Tigers made a huge splash in free agency and enjoyed one of their most memorable off-seasons in team history. Specifically, Bridgeport brought in the AHL's active-leading scorer (692 points), three-time Calder Cup Champion and six-time All-Star, Chris Bourque, as well as 10th-year goalie Jeremy Smith on July 9. The Islanders also signed veteran forward Mike Sislo to a two-way deal on July 2. Sislo co-led the Tucson Roadrunners in goals (23) last season and is expected to make his Sound Tigers debut this weekend along with Bourque and Smith.
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TIGERS VS. PHANTOMS
Tonight's game marks the first of six meetings between the Sound Tigers and Phantoms this season, and the first of three in Allentown. Bridgeport went 1-5-2-0 against Lehigh Valley last year, but earned points in two of their four trips to the PPL Center, including a 3-2 win on Mar. 9. Lehigh Valley won the last head-to-head matchup (5-2 on Apr. 13) despite two points from Sebastian Aho (two assists) and a 28-save effort from Christopher Gibson.
VIEW FROM ALLENTOWN
The Phantoms begin their 23rd AHL season this weekend and fifth in Allentown, Penn. Lehigh Valley is coming off of a spectacular year in 2017-18, in which the club earned 104 points during the regular season, won the Atlantic Division, and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals (lost to Toronto). Phil Varone, last season's AHL MVP (Les Cunningham Award) and second-leading scorer (70 points), is back for his second stint with the Phantoms, while former Sound Tigers captain Colin McDonald returns for his fourth year as Lehigh Valley captain.
TIGERS VS. BEARS
Sunday's contest will feature the first of six matchups between the Sound Tigers and Bears this season, and the first of three at Giant Center. Bridgeport will also host Hershey in three matchups beginning with their next tilt on Jan. 20. Last season, the Sound Tigers went 4-2-0-0 against the Bears, but dropped two of their last three, including a 2-1 setback on Apr. 14 in Chocolate Town.
VIEW FROM CHOCOLATE TOWN
After a last-place finish in the Atlantic Division a year ago (30-37-4-5, 69 points), the Bears look for redemption this season under new head coach Spencer Carbery, who was hired as Hershey's 26th bench boss on Jun. 26. The Bears also welcome back their top goal-scorer from last season, Riley Barber (20), as well as fourth-year netminder Vitek Vanecek, but are without Chris Bourque, who they lost to the Sound Tigers in free agency over the summer. Hershey opens the season tonight against the Syracuse Crunch before welcoming Bridgeport to town tomorrow.
FIRST FOR BELLOWS
The New York Islanders selected forward Kieffer Bellows with their 19th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and tonight, the 20-year-old is expected to make his highly-anticipated professional debut on left wing. Bellows, the son of former NHL veteran and Stanley Cup Champion Brian Bellows, notched 74 points (41g, 33a) in 56 Western Hockey League games with the Portland Winterhawks last year. He also set Team USA's goal-scoring record at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, collecting nine goals in seven games to break Jeremy Roenick's previous mark. Bellows is the only Sound Tiger who is expected to make his pro debut tonight.
AYE AYE, CAPTAIN
The Sound Tigers formally established their 2018-19 leadership group this past week, naming both Ben Holmstrom and Kyle Burroughs as co-captains. It will be Holmstrom's fourth straight season sporting the 'C' for Bridgeport and the first for Burroughs, who will wear the letter if Holmstrom is out of the lineup. Additionally, veterans Seth Helgeson and Steve Bernier will each serve as an alternate captain for the second straight year.
GIBSON GETS THE NOD
Sixth-year goaltender and 2018 AHL All-Star Christopher Gibson is expected to start tonight's season opener between the pipes. The 25-year-old finished last season ranked 11th in the AHL with a 2.42 goals-against-average and set a new career high with four shutouts. He went 19-14-3 in 37 contests. Entering tonight's matchup, Gibson ranks fourth on the Sound Tigers' all-time games played list for netminders (86) and is fifth on the all-time wins list (44), five behind Nathan Lawson (2008-11). He re-signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Islanders as an unrestricted free agent on July 2.
The Sound Tigers will look to snap a five-game losing streak overall, dating back to last April... The team's last win was Apr. 6 in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton... Bridgeport's season-opening roster features four first-round draft picks (Kieffer Bellows, Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, Steve Bernier), and 16 players on an NHL contract... All but one of Bridgeport's eight defensemen are on an NHL deal... The Sound Tigers roster includes 4,470 games of AHL experience and 883 games of NHL experience.
NHL: New York Islanders (1-0-0): Next vs. Nashville, Tonight at 7 p.m.
ECHL: Worcester Railers (0-0-0-0): Next at Reading, Saturday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.
Packed Promotional Lineup: The Sound Tigers will boast one of their most extensive and wide-ranging promotional schedules ever for the 2018-19 season. The fan-friendly calendar includes the return of popular themes like Hockey and Hops (Nov. 23 and Mar. 17), Military Appreciation (Jan. 12), Star Wars Night (Jan. 19) and Princess Night (Mar. 30). Regional hockey fans will be elated for the addition of Hockey Weekend in Connecticut (Feb. 23-24), while other new headliners include Holiday Gift Weekend (Dec. 15-16) and a revamped Teddy Bear Toss (Nov. 23). View the full 2017-18 promotional schedule.
For additional details or to reserve a group outing for any giveaway or theme night, please call the Sound Tigers' front office at (203) 345-2300 ext 7.
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