Aho steady in return to Sound Tigers, winners over Hartford
HARTFORD — A player can come back to the AHL, Bridgeport Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson said Saturday after a 5-1 win over the Hartford Wolf Pack, one of two ways.
He could come back sulking, or he could come back showing why he was in the NHL in the first place.
It has been the latter for Sebastian Aho, who had three assists Saturday at the XL Center in his fifth game since rejoining the Sound Tigers.
“It’s an exciting time of the season to come back, in the middle of a playoff run,” Aho said. “Every game is a big game. These are the games you want to play.”
After a rough 5-0 loss Friday at Springfield, Bridgeport bounced back all around, with power-play goals from Mitch Vande Sompel and Steve Bernier, and a Ben Holmstrom short-handed goal. Eamon McAdam made 32 saves.
Still, Charlotte’s 4-1 win at Syracuse left Bridgeport eight points out of a playoff spot with seven games to go. The Checkers’ magic number is six points.
Aho spent almost three months up with the New York Islanders before coming back March 23. The rookie defenseman has six points in the five games since. He’d appeared to score a goal Friday, but it was disallowed for contact with Thunderbirds goalie Harri Sateri in front of the cage.
His shots got through Saturday, too. Kyle Schempp tipped one in 2:55 into the game. Connor Jones deflected one home early in the second period to make it 3-1.
Aho got his third assist on a third-period power-play goal, setting up Casey Bailey for a shot on which Bernier scored on the rebound. It’s the first of the six that wasn’t a primary assist, the last touch before another player’s goal.
Aho had four points in 22 NHL games. He said that time has given him more confidence with the puck.
“I’m making a little better decisions, at the blue lines, getting pucks out, stuff like that,” said Aho, who turned 22 in February. “I learned the hard way that (in the NHL) they’ll end up in the back of your net.”
Aho, left undrafted for three years until the Islanders plucked him up in the fifth round last summer, showed plenty of poise in his transition to North America. He became the first Sound Tigers defenseman to score three goals in a game on Nov. 5.
“We knew what we had with him, his hockey IQ,” Thompson said.
“Are there things he needs to improve on? He definitely needs to get stronger, to use his feet to defend. I’m sure he’s going to work on them the rest of the season, the playoffs. If he gets stronger over the course of the summer, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with next year.”
Boo Nieves scored for Hartford midway through the first period, but McAdam stopped 14 shots in the period, and Vande Sompel’s late power-play goal put Bridgeport ahead for good.
The loss eliminated the Wolf Pack from playoff contention for the third year in a row. They have missed out five times in six years since they swept Bridgeport in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. The Sound Tigers have only qualified once, 2016, since then, too.
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SOUND TIGERS 5, WOLF PACK 1
Bridgeport2 1 2—5
Hartford1 0 0—1
First Period — 1, Bridgeport, Schempp 3 (Aho, Bailey), 2:55. 2, Hartford, Nieves 7 (Kosmachuk, Bigras), 10:03 (pp). 3, Bridgeport, Vande Sompel 5 (Benoit, Hitchcock), 18:05 (pp). Penalties — Vande Sompel, Bpt (holding), 8:22; Lettieri, Hfd (delay of game), 16:22.
Second Period — 4, Bridgeport, C.Jones 8 (Aho), :34. Penalties — McAdam, Bpt, served Bernier (tripping), 3:10; Beleskey, Hfd (tripping), 14:31; Kosmachuk, Hfd (tripping), 17:08; Benoit, Bpt (holding), 19:23.
Third Period — 5, Bridgeport, B.Holmstrom 10 (C.Jones), :28 (sh). 6, Bridgeport, Bernier 18 (Bailey, Aho), 3:55 (pp). Penalties — Kotyk, Hfd (cross-checking), 3:02; Helgeson, Bpt (roughing), 4:32; Labrie, Hfd (roughing), 4:32; C.Jones, Bpt (high-sticking), 9:46.
Shots on goal — Bridgeport 5-9-11—25. Hartford 15-12-6—33.
Power play opportunities — Bridgeport 2 of 4, Hartford 1 of 4.
Goaltenders — Bridgeport, McAdam 4-1-0 (33 shots-32 saves). Hartford, Mazanec 9-6-1 (18-13), Georgiev (3:55 third, 7-7).
Attendance — 4,513. Referees — Schrader, Wilk. Linesmen — M.Baker, N.Briganti.