Mike Halmo scored with 4:54 remaining in regulation to break a 3-3 deadlock and give the Bridgeport Sound Tigers a hard-earned 4-3 victory over the Connecticut Whale before 5,871 fans at the Webster Bank Arena (WBA) on Sunday afternoon. Halmo, who got behind the Whale defense, took a long pass from Landry then broke down ice where he banged a shot off the goal post. The puck ricocheted off Whale goalie Cam Talbot’s back, then past the goal line for what would ultimately prove to be the game-winning tally.
The Whale wasted little time getting into the scoring column, compliments of an old friend of Sound Tigers. Following a turnover in the Bridgeport zone, Marek Hrivik skated into the right circle and fed Micheal Haley, who played with the Sound Tigers from 2007-08 to 2011-12 before signing with the Rangers’ organization prior to this season. Haley promptly sent a one-timer over Sound Tigers’ starting goalie Anders Nilsson’s pad from just outside the crease to put the Whale up 1-0 just 28 seconds into the contest.
FYI, here’s all you have to know about Haley’s popularity: While in the Park City, the 26-year-old bruising forward scored 40 goals and 33 assists over the course of two full seasons and parts of three others. Oh, he also spent 639 minutes in the penalty box.
Bridgeport’s Matt Donovan evened the score midway through the opening frame. As Donovan and Sean Backman flew down the left boards on a 2-on-3 rush, all three Connecticut defenders converged on Backman, a Greenwich native, who did a 180 and found a wide-open Donovan in front of the Connecticut net. Donovan promptly snapped a wrister that snuck between Connecticut netminder Cam Talbot’s blocker and the post. Halmo also picked up an assist on Donovan’s first goal of the season at the 9:06 mark of the opening period.
Less than five minutes later, the Whale reclaimed the lead when Kyle Jean skated in back of the Bridgeport net and sent a wrap-around backhander past Nilsson to make it 2-1 Connecticut with 6:03 remaining in the opening frame. Ryan Bourque and Brandon Segal picked up helpers on Jean’s fifth marker of the campaign.
Then, 39 seconds later, the Whale opened up a two-goal advantage when Haley showed he was, indeed, more than a one-dimensional brute, scoring his second tally of the game—firing a one-timer past Nilsson to make the score 3-1 Connecticut. Marek Hrvik and Blake Parlett picked up assists on Haley’s second goal of the season
Just 1:38 into the second period, the mood throughout the arena took on a somber tone. Bridgeport’s Colin McDonald checked the Whale’s Jyri Niemi, in the Connecticut zone and a brawl ensued. After the dust settled, Niemi, a 2008 third-round draft pick of the Sound Tigers’ parent club, the Islanders, lie motionless on the ice, much to the chagrin of everyone in the arena. As Niemi was carted off on a stretcher after a lengthy delay, the mixed crowd—many fans had made the trek down Interstates 91 and 95 from the Hartford area—breathed a huge sigh of relief when Niemi was able to muster the energy to raise his arm to the fans, a very good sign. Reports after the game were that Niemi’s injury was not serious.
“You’re obviously concerned for Jyri,” said Sound Tigers defenseman Travis Hamonic, who was drafted one round ahead of Niemi. “He was drafted by this organization. I know him pretty well. It was nice to see him [wave].”
McDonald was issued a game misconduct, and received a two-game suspension from the AHL for the hit.
The Sound Tigers cut the Connecticut lead to one with a power play goal. After Sean Collins was whistled off for holding Bridgeport’s Matt Watkins, Brock Nelson found the back of the net for the seventh time this season 8:57 into the second stanza, with Jon Landry and Aaron Ness picking up helpers on the play. It was the fifth straight game in which Nelson scored a goal.
Less than six minutes later, the Sound Tigers knotted things after a pair of minors on Connecticut’s Kris Newbury and Sam Klassen gave Bridgeport a 5-on-3 man advantage—and the home team took full advantage of the opportunity when, just as Newbury was coming out of the box, Nino Niederreiter found Hamonic at the top of the zone. Hamonic promptly sent a slapshot through traffic that found its way past a screened-out Talbot to knot the score at 3-3.
That set the stage for Halmo’s late-game heroics.
After Landry sent a flawless pass from deep in the Bridgeport zone to the 21-year-old left wing from Kitchener, Ontario, near the red line, Halmo broke to the Connecticut net and popped it over Talbot’s blocker with what would prove to be the winning goal with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
“I just saw a break, and Landry had the puck and I took off,” said Halmo of his first tally of the season—and the just second of his professional career. “He hit me with the pass. I kind of lost the puck in the bad ice, so I just decided to shoot, and it went in.”
But the game wasn’t quite over yet. After Landry was sent to the box for interference in the game’s final minute, Nilsson and the Sound Tigers’ defense were able to put the clamps on the Whale for the remaining 43 seconds to ensure the win for Bridgeport.
“We knew we could correct what had happened,” said Sound Tigers head coach Scott Pellerin of his team’s propensity for coming back—this time from a two-goal hole. “We had some bad coverages and some bad turnovers. We didn’t take care of the puck correctly. I knew we were still in the game, and that our guys were going to bounce back. They’ve been doing it all season long.”
With the win, the Sound Tigers improve to 8-3-0-0, and are two points behind Northeast Division-leading Springfield. The Whale fall to 5-6-1-0, five points behind the second-place Sound Tigers.
Next up for the Sound Tigers will be a trip to the Poconos where they will take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Friday night at 7:05 p.m., before returning home for a date with the Manchester Monarchs on Saturday night. First puck drops at the WBA at 7 p.m. Bridgeport wraps up a signature 3-in-3 with a trip up 95 to Providence where they will face the P-Bruins Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
The Whale return home to the XL Center where they will host the Portland Pirates on Friday night before heading to Worcester where they will take on the Sharks on Saturday night. Faceoff is 7 p.m. for both contests. At each and every Friday Whale home game this year, fans can enjoy $1 hot dogs and $2 beers until 8 p.m. Tickets for all Whale regular season home games are on sale at the XL Center box office, through TicketMaster Charge-by-Phone at 1-800-745-3000 and on-line at www.ticketmaster.com.