Josh Ho-Sang watched from afar — well, not that far — and cheered as the Islanders completed a first-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins last week.
Ho-Sang, a former first-round pick, would have loved to be with the Islanders for their postseason run. Instead, he remains with their minor-league team in Bridgeport, where he was the fourth-leading scorer for the Sound Tigers in the regular season. He started as the third-line right wing in their first-round playoff game against the Hershey Bears on Friday.
Ho-Sang, who has had his chances to make the parent club during the last three seasons but just can’t seem to stick, admits that he’s not at all happy to be back in Bridgeport for another year.
“I characterize it as it is what it is,’’ Ho-Sang told Newsday on Friday after the Sound Tigers’ 3-2 double-overtime win over Hershey in Game 1 of the teams’ best-of-five series. “I wouldn’t say I’m unhappy, but I’m definitely not happy.’’
Ho-Sang said he has “broken down a couple times this year’’ and said trying to make it as a professional hockey player has not been easy.
“The biggest thing that carries me through everything is I love playing hockey,’’ he said. “And that helps me on the days when I maybe don’t love where I’m at, with everything going on.’’
He still pulls for the Islanders, though, and says he’s “really, really proud’’ of how they’ve grown as a team this season.
“That makes me really happy, to see how those guys have taken the bull by the horns and silenced a lot of critics,’’ he said. “And for me, that’s something that’s inspiring. I definitely look at that and I appreciate every single one of the guys in that dressing room and what they’ve done this year and what they’ve accomplished, and I hope they continue. I hope they go as far as possible. I hope they win the Stanley Cup.
“I love a lot of guys on that team. That group is — they say it all the time — they really are a special group of guys.’’
Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello was in attendance to check out Friday’s game. Rookie Kieffer Bellows, the team’s 2016 first-round pick, scored the winning goal with 6:24 left in the second overtime, assisted by 2018 first-round pick Oliver Wahlstrom, who has been with the team a month or so. Those two were on the first power-play unit. Ho-Sang was on the second unit, though he did play on a regular line with Bellows.
Ho-Sang, who had eight goals and 35 assists in 56 games for Bridgeport this season — and one goal and one assist in 10 games with the Islanders — did on Friday what he always seems to do: he skated past, around and through the Hershey team as though they were a bunch of traffic cones, with the puck stuck on his stick blade like a piece of iron on a magnet.
Ho-Sang dominated play when he was on the ice but ended up with no points. On one shift late in the first overtime, Ho-Sang weaved his way around the Hershey players until he ended up right in the slot, alone with Hershey goaltender Ilya Samsonov, 15 feet away. But he didn’t shoot, choosing instead to flip a backhand pass to Bellows, who shot wide.
Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson was asked if he wished Ho-Sang had shot the puck on that play instead of passing. He laughed.
“I would love Josh to shoot a puck more,’’ Thompson said. “And that’s been a work in progress over these last few years.’’
Thompson did say Ho-Sang has been shooting more this season and pointed to the Toronto native’s two shots on goal in the game.
“But he’s a passer,’’ Thompson said. “He wants to find guys. He really thinks that first. In that particular situation, yes, I wish he would have shot it. He was point-blank. But hey, if Bellows hits the net, it’s a goal as well. Because [Ho-Sang] made a heck of a play; he drew everyone to him and Bellows had that opportunity to bury it as well.’’
Then Thompson laughed again.
When asked why he didn’t shoot, Ho-Sang responded that he passed the puck to the guy that scored the overtime winner. It was pointed out to him that Bellows didn’t score on that play, though.
“But he did score later,’’ Ho-Sang said. “Give a good shooter enough chances, he’ll score.’’
Notes & quotes: Bridgeport forward Travis St. Denis, who was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for boarding Hershey defenseman Aaron Ness in the third period, was suspended for Saturday’s game by the AHL. Ness left on a stretcher and was taken to a local hospital, where he was doing OK on Saturday and was expected to be released, according to Hershey’s verified Twitter account.