Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As the Islanders floundered in the first 20 games of this season, the call to see some fresh blood brought in got louder. With a pair of prized first-rounders in Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle working away in Bridgeport, why wouldn’t the Isles give either one a look to jumpstart the big club?
That wasn’t how the organization saw it and the front office took its cue from Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson, who has scratched Ho-Sang three times already this season as he tries to get the two 20-year-old forwards ready for the NHL.
“They had good camps, but if you saw their first 10 games down here you’d know they weren’t ready,” Thompson said. “Yeah, they put up some points, but are they showing the habits you need to succeed every day in the NHL? You can cut a corner in the American League and it may not burn you. You do that in the NHL and it burns you, it burns your team that needs to win and it hurts the organization. It’s not a rush for these kids to get them up there. It’s more important to prepare them so that when they do go, they don’t come back.”
Thompson said he’s been encouraged by Ho-Sang’s play and work habits of late following his fourth scratch of the season on Dec. 29.
“There’s situations you have to understand as a rookie – it’s all got to be earned,” Thompson said of Ho-Sang, who has three goals and 13 assists in 28 games. “When you’ve got 25 guys pulling in one direction, you can’t have one guy going off on his own. Sloppy turnovers, play away from the puck, buying into the team concept. He is now, he’s working. It’s tough for a young kid to come out of junior hockey where he’s the man and realize, I have to do this this and this. The program is a big change. I’m really happy with him.”
Dal Colle has seven goals and seven assists this season, but no goals in his last 17 games after a strong start. That’s another aspect of being a first-year pro.
“At the beginning of year he was working real hard, driving his feet, pushing the pace. The last 3-4 weeks he’s gotten a little complacent, but once he pushes the pace he’ll generate again,” Thompson said. “He’s a ways away but he’s definitely going the right way so far. It’s about pushing himself, with Josh too. Michael understands, he sees the video and he’s receptive, he wants to get better.”
HALAK HAS RIGHT ATTITUDE
Brent Thompson also now has Jaroslav Halak on the Sound Tigers, the veteran goaltender having been waived and sent down on Dec. 30. Halak lost a 3-2 shootout in his first AHL game in a decade on Wednesday and was slated to start again on Saturday.
“His attitude has been great,” Thompson said. “He came in, he said his first game was one of the toughest mentally he’s had. Just having him in the room, the confidence, the experience, it’s been good for the younger guys. He’s working hard, there’s been a few smiles already. We’ll see where it takes him.”
THE PLUSES AND MINUSES OF PLUS/MINUS
Dennis Seidenberg is philosophical about his plus-16 rating, by far the best on the Isles in that category and tied for 12th in the NHL entering Saturday’s games.
“When you’re plus, it’s a great stat. When you’re minus, like I was the last couple years, it’s a terrible stat,” he joked. “But honestly, a lot of it is luck, just being on the ice when something good happens or the opposite when you’re minus. You notice it because it’s listed with the stats but you don’t really put a lot of stock behind it.”
Ryan Strome was a plus-23 in 2014-15, the best Isles player in that dubious department in the last decade.
WORLD JUNIORS A FAMILY AFFAIR
Brent Thompson was a proud pop after Thursday’s World Junior tournament gold-medal game, a stirring 5-4 shootout win by the U.S. over Canada. Thompson’s son Tage, a UConn sophomore who was the 26th pick of the June draft by the Blues, won gold, even though Brent is a Calgary native.
“Just sitting there as a Dad and watching the gold medal go around his neck – it was unreal,” Brent Thompson said. “It all worked out the way it was supposed to.”
Not so much for Ryan Strome, whose younger brother Dylan was Canada’s captain. The Islanders had rooting interests on both sides – 2016 first-round pick Kieffer Bellows had two goals for the U.S. on Thursday and Mathew Barzal, a 2015 first-rounder, was one of the top forwards in the tournament for Canada.