THRIVING ON THE BIG STAGE

Courtesy: SoundTigers.com
          Release: 01/17/2013
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Wednesday night’s Blue & White Scrimmage at Nassau Coliseum was an opportunity for fans to see the New York Islanders on the ice for the first time since the end of the 2011-12 season.  Fans were reacquainted with the likes of John Tavares, Mark Streit, and Matt Moulson, who scored two goals in the game.

Islanders fans also got to know some players they had more than likely never heard of. Names like Scott Campbell, Chad Costello, Jack Combs, and Dallas Jackson.

They’re not highly-touted first-round draft picks. They’re not top-end NHL free agents. They’re guys that have fought their way through lower-level minor-league hockey to earn spots on the Sound Tigers roster over the past month.

If Wednesday’s scrimmage was nothing more than an opportunity to showcase their skills to the Islanders brass just for one night, these players certainly took advantage of it.

The White Team, comprised of Sound Tigers players and Islanders first-round picks Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart, defeated the Blue Team in regulation by a 5-3 score. The Blue Team outscored the White Team 3-0 in the shootout to make the final tally 6-5.

Scott Campbell scored his first goal in a Sound Tigers uniform, a deflection off of Islanders 2012 first round pick Griffin Reinhart’s point shot past Rick DiPietro to give the White Team a 4-3 lead with 6.8 seconds left in the second period. Chad Costello and Jack Combs each had multi-point games, and Dallas Jackson added an assist on Nino Niederreiter’s goal in the first period.

“I was really happy with their effort, and I was really happy to see these guys get an opportunity to have this experience,” Sound Tigers Head Coach Scott Pellerin said. “For a lot of these guys, this was their first time to be this close to the NHL…some of the haven’t been to an NHL camp, so it was great for them to skate on the Nassau Coliseum ice and compete against NHL stars. I was really proud of the team, how they conducted themselves and how the represented the Sound Tigers.”

Campbell’s goal late in the second period turned out to be the difference-maker as the White Team held a 5-3 advantage after regulation. The second-year pro has three assists in eight games with Bridgeport over the past month, and is still in search of his first AHL goal.

“I kind of chuckled to myself after I saw the puck go in,” Campbell said. “It was actually a relief just to get one with this team. I’ve been a bit snake-bitten, even though I’ve had my chances. It was nice to finally pot one.”

Costello has found success during his first month with the Sound Tigers as well, with seven points (1g/6a) in six games played. Just one month ago, Costello was in the midst of his second season in the ECHL with the Colorado Eagles. The fifth-year pro had just 19 games of AHL experience prior to this season after stints in the International and Central Hockey Leagues. The Johnston, IA native had two assists in the game, but his biggest individual moment came when he was denied by former NHL All-Star Evgeni Nabokov on a breakaway.

“That was insane,” Costello said of his chance against Nabokov. “I kind of had to pinch myself a few times and say this was for real. It was hard to wipe the smile off of my face and get down to business.”

Jack Combs came to Bridgeport along with Costello after the pair led the ECHL in all offensive categories after the first two months of the season. They both inked AHL contracts earlier this month, solidifying their place with the team for the remainder of the 2012-13 campaign.

“Just walking into the rink and being in an NHL building was something I definitely didn’t think would happen this season,” Combs said. “We were just grateful for the opportunity.”

Costello got his name onto the scoresheet before he even recorded his first assist. He was called for a penalty he hadn’t thought he committed, then was called for another penalty later in the game before realizing there was a reason he was being sent off.

“I asked the ref, ‘Really?’ and he said it wasn’t a real penalty, they were just calling penalties so the Islanders could work on their power play,” Costello said. “After the second penalty, I laughed and asked, ‘Why are you picking on me?’”

The White Team thrived on special teams in the game, scoring three times on the man-advantage while looking strong on the penalty kill. The Sound Tigers power play has been near the top of the AHL all season long, and Wednesday night’s performance was no different.

“The first period, we tried to simulate some of New Jersey’s special teams to help the Islanders prepare for the Devils on Saturday,” Pellerin said. “After that, we got back to our game and our strengths. Having the talent of Ryan Strome on the power play helped, and our puck movement and our ability to get pucks to the net was the difference on special teams. On the other side, I thought our penalty kill was strong with different guys getting opportunities in different situations, and I was happy with their execution.”

Campbell is one of those players who saw extra time on the penalty kill. He’s shown his ability to win faceoffs and be physical against the opposition, but hasn’t had many chances to work on the PK unit.

“My mindset hasn’t changed since I got here,” Campbell said. “It’s something I’ve done at every level and it’s a part of my game. I tried to just look at it as another opportunity…just do what you do.”

Dallas Jackson has appeared in a handful of games with the Sound Tigers and spent time with a few defensemen in Wednesday night’s game, including Isles 2012 first round pick Griffin Reinhart.

“He didn’t look out of place at all,” Jackson said of Reinhart. “We were playing against an NHL-caliber team out there tonight. He handled himself really well, and was very easy to play with.”

Jackson is another member of the Sound Tigers team that joined the squad late last month without any kind of AHL contract with another team. The 6’2, 188-pound defenseman led Gwinnett (ECHL) defensemen in all offensive categories before earning the call to Bridgeport.

“I was just looking to go out there and play tonight,” Jackson said. “It’s a great opportunity, and any chance you can have to play in front of their staff and general manager is a great opportunity. You can’t think of it that way while you’re out there though, you just have to get out there and see how you match up.”

At least for tonight, the Sound Tigers matched up pretty well. Sound Tigers regulars Sean Backman and Brett Gallant also saw opportunities they haven’t had this season in Bridgeport, as both participated in the shootout.

“We do shootouts in practice a lot, and Gally is actually very successful, “ Pellerin sad. “With the way the game went, I didn’t get him as much ice time as I would have liked. I saw an opportunity to get him in there tonight, and I wasn’t going to let it go by. I also told Sean Backman (brother-in-law of Matt Moulson) that ,’as soon as Moulson goes, you’re going to go right after him.’ They had a lot of fun with it.”

Costello summed up the mentality he and the rest of the newly-added Sound Tigers had throughout their strong showing.

“This was something that I wanted to definitely take seriously, because this might be a one-time opportunity,” Costello said. “At the same time, I wanted to enjoy this, smile and have fun and be myself. I thought we handled it pretty well.”

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