The Bridgeport Islanders playoff run ended last Monday in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs at the hands of the Charlotte Checkers in four games.
It was a successful season for the Islanders AHL team as they went on a late-season hot streak to sneak into the playoffs and won their first playoff series since 2003. The season presented a lot of bright spots for the future with some of the young prospects so let’s take a look and see what we can take away from this season, starting with the breakout player of the year in Simon Holmstrom
The 2019 first-round pick had not gotten off to great starts in his first two seasons in the American Hockey League. He recorded just 12 goals and ten assists for 22 points in just his first 60 AHL games between 2019-20 and 2020-21.
This season he showed immediate strides, being elevated to the top line and matching his 24-game total of seven points from 2021 in just 14 games in 2021-22. He also took over some penalty-killing responsibilities as he was starting to round out his defensive game.
He continued his half-point a-game pace as he had 20 points through 44 games, again far and away from the best he’s looked in an Islanders uniform. Holmstrom elevated his game to a new level late in the season when the team needed him most.
With the team sitting at a mediocre 18-21-5-4 record in late February, Simon Holmstrom scored 23 points in his last 24 games as Bridgeport went 13-8-2-0 to close out the regular season and clinch a playoff spot.
Holmstrom finished the regular season with career highs in goals (12), assists (31), points (43), and shots on goal (107). What’s encouraging outside of the general increase in offense is that he scored a career-high in goals on a career-low shooting percentage (11.2%) which helps show this level of play is more sustainable.
Just like the team, Holmstrom wasn’t done in the regular season. Holmstrom didn’t record a point in Bridgeports two-game sweep of the Providence Bruins. Still, he was noticeable on offense and defense, especially in game two, where he had a shorthanded breakaway that almost extended the Isles lead to 2-0 in the 3rd.
Holmstrom continued to create chances in game one of the second round against Charlotte but again couldn’t get on the scoresheet. In-game two, after the Checkers raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first eight minutes, Holmstrom was the one who stopped the bleeding by burying his first Calder Cup Playoff goal to cut the lead to 4-1. That helped spark a furious Bridgeport rally where they scored three goals in less than a minute to cut the lead to 4-3. The Islanders would find themselves down 5-4 late in the second period until Simon Holmstrom hip-checked a Charlotte defender in the offensive zone, stole the puck, and fed it to the slot to Austin Czarnik. He slid it across to Chris Terry for the tying goal. Holmstrom came through in a big moment with his first multi-point playoff game in the 7-6, 2OT loss in game two.
So in game three, Holmstrom played probably one of the best games of his professional career to date with their season on the line. He helped the Islanders penalty kill go 3/3 and was on the ice for all of the Islanders goals and none of the goals against. On the Islanders second goal of the game, Holmstrom stripped the puck in the defensive zone and sent a great outlet pass up the ice for Chris Terry, joined up in the rush, and buried the feed from Terry in the back of the net with 4:37 left in the 3rd period to break a 1-1 tie. He added an empty-net goal for a 3-1 lead four minutes later, and after a late Charlotte goal with 38 seconds left, Holmstrom helped keep the Bridgeport season alive with a 3-2 win on the road.
Sadly the momentum did not carry over as Bridgeport laid an egg in game four, and their season ended in the second round.
Simon Holmstrom managed to recapture the magic that made him the 23rd overall pick in his draft class and showed both physical and statistical improvements in every aspect of his game this season. Who knows if he will get a chance to make the team out of training camp, but a lot more eyes will be on the 21-year-old Swede at NHL training camp in the fall.
But if he doesn’t make the team, he definitely gives one a reason to make the trip up I-95 to Bridgeport and watch his play.