Experience on All LevelsMay 14, 2022
By Cory Wright (@WrightsWay)
It’s no surprise to see Austin Czarnik and Chris Terry leading the Bridgeport Islanders offensively in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Czarnik has an AHL-leading eight points (3G, 5A) in four games in his fourth trip to the AHL postseason, which includes a lengthy run with Providence in 2017. Terry has four points (1G, 3A) in four games in this year’s playoffs, upping his career total to 42 Calder Cup playoff games.
The two were especially good together in Bridgeport’s 7-6 double-overtime loss to the Charlotte Checkers on Thursday night, combining for seven points (2G, 5A). Czarnik and Terry had the primary assist on each other’s goals as Bridgeport rallied out of a 4-0 first period hole to eventually force OT.
“Terry is one of the best goal-scorers there is,” Bridgeport Head Coach Brent Thompson said. “Consistently being able to score 20 or 30 goals every year. He's got a great hockey brain. They talk, Czarnik’s vision, he played the NHL and has that great offensive foresight.”
“They naturally have chemistry because they both think the game same way offensively,” Thompson added.
The 33-year-old Terry and 29-year-old Czarnik were joined by Simon Holmstrom, who is less than two weeks away from turning 21. While he’s one of the youngest Islanders, his AHL experience outsizes his age, as he’s currently playing his third year in the league. Despite 138 regular season games under his belt, the 2019 first-round pick is finally getting his first taste of playoff hockey, since there were no postseasons in the past two AHL campaigns.
Holmstrom seemingly fit in seamlessly with Terry and Czarnik, one-timing a Czarnik feed to kickstart Bridgeport’s comeback bid on Thursday. The youngster finished the game with a goal and an assist for his first playoff goal and point.
“His skating ability, poise with the puck, you saw tonight on two of the goals we scored how strong he is,” Terry said of Holmstrom. “He’s taking pucks off veteran players in this league and making plays. From start to finish this year, he’s an elite player in this league and be hard not to see him in the NHL next year.”
Holmstrom took a step forward in his third season, recording 43 points (12G, 31A) in 68 games, while also improving his penalty killing, per Thompson.
The Swedish forward isn’t the only Islander getting his first taste of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Arnaud Durandeau, the Islanders’ 2017 sixth-round pick, made a splash in his AHL playoff debut, scoring the OT winner in a 2-1 win over the Providence Bruins in Game 1 of the first round series.
The French-Canadian forward plays with an edge, but that’s been beneficial in the postseason, as he’s a constant fixture around the net. After splitting time between the AHL and ECHL in 2019-20, Durandeau seemed to get a foothold this past season, with 37 points (15G, 22A) in 64 games with the Islanders.
“I’ve seen an evolution quite honestly,” Thompson said. “He's really more intense. He's playing a better 200-foot game. He's using his speed to his advantage and trusting his speed and going into the net harder and that's why he's getting more scoring chances… He's elevated his intensity level, which is why you're seeing him engaged and more physical.”
The other noteworthy newcomer has been Aatu Raty, who joined the Islanders after the conclusion of the Liiga season in Finland. Raty was only guaranteed two games, as Bridgeport was yet to clinch a playoff spot when he debuted on April 22, so the longer the Islanders play, the more North American experience he’ll soak up.
“He works extremely hard,” Thompson said of Raty after the Providence series. “He’s been over here just over a week and he's picked up our structure very well. He's physical, he closes, he has good awareness of guys away from the puck. He has a good stick. He's pretty strong on his face offs, and he's ambidextrous, he can pull both ways. So there are a lot of positives that you can talk about and he just continues to get better and better and I'm excited to see him two years from now playing for the Islanders.”
The early returns for the 2021 second-round pick (52nd overall) have been promising. Raty is tied with Terry for second on the team with four points (1G, 3A) and his first goal in North America was the series-clinching OT-winner in Game 2 against the Providence Bruins, Bridgeport’s first series win in 19 years. So far Raty has a point in all four of Bridgeport’s playoff games.
The Islanders currently trail their second round series 2-0 against Charlotte, so they’ll look to stay alive on Saturday. Between winning a series and being involved in a pair of close – and at times very chaotic – games against Charlotte, these young Islanders are gaining valuable playoff experiences. As they look to keep their season going, they’ll surely gain some more.