Stronger Harris returns to better Sound Tigers
BRIDGEPORT — In 2013-14, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers used 65 players, only five shy of the league record and all the more unfathomable considering that 42 of them played during the season’s last five and a half weeks.
Somewhat remarkably, five of those 42 players were in the Sound Tigers’ lineup Sunday. Jesse Graham, Ryan Pulock, Kyle Burroughs and Josh Holmstrom were all youngsters then, playing their first few professional games, but they’re all Sound Tigers regulars now.
Brant Harris rejoined them Sunday, catching a 5:45 a.m. flight from Florida to get to Bridgeport. Signed to a pro tryout to take a spot on Bridgeport’s top line, he skated a regular shift with power-play time in a 5-2 win over Hartford.
“Coming into a new team where you have some guys you know, it makes you a little more comfortable,” Harris said Sunday.
Harris’ first eight pro games were spent with Bridgeport after he finished his senior year at UConn, one of a dozen players to bolster the 2013-14 Sound Tigers on amateur tryouts (ATOs) after their college or junior seasons.
He has mostly been playing in the ECHL in the three years since, and he has broken out for the South Division-leading Florida Everblades this season. His 67 points, on 25 goals and 42 assists, had him in the ECHL’s top 10 scorers.
“I can’t pinpoint one (reason),” said Harris, 27. “I’m using my body a little more. I’m shooting the puck as much as I can. I don’t know if I’ve tried to change my game or do too much.”
Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson had similar words before Sunday’s game for what he wanted out of Harris, to use his size at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. Afterward, he seemed satisfied.
“I was very happy with Harris,” said Thompson, who was with the New York Islanders the last time Harris was here, though assistant coach Eric Boguniecki, trainer Dave Stickney and equipment manager Leni DiCostanzo also remain. “He’s a smart, reliable two-way guy.”
Injuries to Connor Jones and Travis St. Denis, which appear to be shorter-term compared to Steve Bernier’s upper-body injury that might cost him the rest of the season, have depleted Bridgeport’s forward corps. And Josh Ho-Sang is up with the Islanders and doesn’t appear to be coming back soon.
Harris helped fill the hole on the right side Sunday. Darren Nowick, up from the Sound Tigers’ ECHL affiliate (soon to rebrand itself as the Kansas City Mavericks), played the past two games, at right wing on Saturday and center on Sunday.
“I was happy with Nowick’s game, too,” Thompson said. “They both bought into the systems.”
Though it’s unlikely that this Sound Tigers team, in a pitched playoff battle, will bring in anything close to a dozen ATOs, it is that time of year when young players come in for a look.
It appeared Bridgeport was set to bring one in, though by an indirect route. Sacred Heart’s Justin Danforth signed with Reading (ECHL) last week after the Pioneers’ season ended and impressed, putting up a goal and two assists in three games. The Royals’ transactions report Monday said they’ve loaned Danforth to Bridgeport for a presumable tryout.
Danforth had 10 goals and 22 assists for Sacred Heart and was named first-team All-Atlantic Hockey in his senior season.
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