In what can only be described as the media event of year in southern Connecticut, Kyle Okposo made his home debut for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Saturday night.
As promised, Okposo Net was at the Arena at Harbor Yard along with 4,523 paying customers to see if Kyle was and is the real deal. The verdict: a definitive yes.
The Sound Tigers' opponent for the 7 PM contest was the Springfield Falcons, notable for being Edmonton's American Hockey League affiliate. This meant that Ryan O'Marra, dealt away from the Isles in last season's Ryan Smyth deal, would be facing the team that drafted him.
Kyle Okposo took the ice along with his new team wearing the Tigers' bright orange home sweaters. During introductions, he was hard to miss, wearing a large #12 on his back and holding a bright silver stick. Just in case someone *did* miss him, however, the public address announcer blared "Introducing...Number Twelve...Kyle Okposo!" with added emphasis on the last name. The crowd responded approvingly.
When the introductions and anthem concluded, Okposo wasted no time in getting into the mix. Playing without his linemate and housemate Jeff Tambellini (recalled to the Islanders), he skated freely and comfortably in the offensive zone. He had an early shot that produced nothing and missed high over the goal with a laser soon after, but began to feed his mates the puck when possible, creating chances for them, the hallmark of a team leader.
Big Kip Brennan scored the only goal of the first period, giving the Tigers a 1-0 lead, but astute observers had a sense that the Okposo show was about to begin.
Just 3:03 into the 2nd, Kyle corralled the puck, sped up the right side, and fed a similarly streaking Frans Nielsen for a goal and a 2-0 lead. Almost seven minutes later, Kyle decided it was time to net a goal for himself, taking a pass from Sean Bentivoglio along the wing, skating in, and firing a blast that was tipped by a defender over (Springfield goalie) Devan Dubnyk's shoulder. Before the crowd was done admiring Kyle's first professional goal he struck again, assisting on a Scott Ford goal just 32 seconds later. With just over half of the period elapsed, Kyle recorded 2 assists, a goal, and a +3!
Up 4-0 and with the crowd delighted, Kip Brennan added to their joy when Falcons d-man T.J. Reynolds foolishly engaged him in a fight. Brennan took about 4 right-handed swings at Reynolds, connecting solidly with the last, knocking Reynolds to the ice senseless. It was one of most staggering blows we've seen in a hockey game in a *long* while. Gladly, Reynolds was conscious after the game and didn't appear seriously injured.
Okposo's ice time was sporadic in the 3rd period as the Tigers milked their lead. They allowed the visitors two goals but the game was never really in jeopardy. The Falcons, sensing desperation, pulled their netminder with over 3 minutes remaining. It was of no use, as Okposo and the Tigers skated away with a 4-2 win.
The three stars of the game, as voted on by us in the press box, matched Okposo Net's vote precisely:
1. Kyle Okposo (1G, 2A, +2)
2. Sean Bentivoglio
3. Kip Brennan
After the game, Sound Tiger coach Jack Capuano had nothing but praise for Okposo. After only two games he used adjectives like "composed," "poised," and "humble" freely. He said that Kyle showed signs of becoming an elite player some day in the NHL.
Our impression of Kyle was similar when we spoke with him in the hallway outside of the dressing room. He was happy that his mother had made the trip to see him play and stated that she'll receive the puck from his first goal. He was also somewhat happy to have Jeff Tambellini's house all to himself, which elicited laughter amongst the gathered media.
All in all it was a great night for both Okposo Net and Kyle. In 2 games he has 5 points (1G, 4A), but more importantly is doing and saying the right things. The pressure of having Islanders scouts, execs, media, and even his mother present does not seem to faze him.
Lastly, a few thank yous must go out to Kimber Auerbach (Director of Sound Tigers Game Operations), Chris Botta (VP, Islanders Media Relations), and our friend Tom Liodice who helped us every step of the way in unfamiliar surroundings.
We'll be back tomorrow at 4 PM for Kyle's 3rd AHL game. Who knows what may be in store?