Kowalsky Takes Charge as Rookie Camp OpensSep 14, 2023
By Alan Fuehring (@alanfuehring)
“Good morning, great to see you,” said Rick Kowalsky, a contagious smile on this face, as he shook hands with media, coaches, and members of the New York Islanders’ front office on Thursday.
The newest Head Coach of the Bridgeport Islanders will be a focal point at Northwell Health Ice Center on Long Island over the next week, as the Islanders officially kicked off Rookie Camp to begin the 2023 preseason.
"It feels like the first day of school. I know myself and all of our staff are excited to get going and I feel like the players share that same feeling," he said. "The summer is behind us. It’s time to put our heads down and get to work.”
The 51-year-old native of Simcoe, Ont. has been at Islanders’ camp each of the last two Septembers, but as an assistant coach under Brent Thompson. Now Kowalsky gets his shot at leading the on-ice sessions of Rookie Camp, as Bridgeport’s bench boss has typically done.
Kowalsky, the 2016 AHL Coach of the Year with the Albany Devils, spent three seasons as an NHL assistant with New Jersey from 2018-21. He served as Head Coach of the Devils’ AHL affiliates for eight seasons prior to that including seven with Albany and one with Binghamton.
Of course, there’s an obvious connection there with the Lamoriello family. He was hired by Lou and Chris as the ninth head coach in Bridgeport Islanders history on July 13th, following Thompson’s move to the Anaheim Ducks. It’s a relationship that goes back nearly two decades.
“There’s a very good level of comfortability with them for sure,” Kowalsky said. “I was very fortunate to work with them for a lot of years in New Jersey. For my development as a coach, the resources they gave me going all the way back to Trenton were top-notch. I remember I took that job in May of 2006 and three months later I got a call from the owner saying you’ve got to call Lou Lamoriello, the Devils just bought the team. I had no idea where my coaching career was going to go from there, but I’ve been very blessed and fortunate.”
Many of the 23 players at this year’s Rookie Camp will begin the regular season working with Kowalsky in the AHL. And it’s shaping up to be a uniquely young and promising roster.
“I think there’s no question we’re going to be younger than we have been the last two years,” Kowalsky said. “That’s something I’m really excited about. Working with these young guys and helping them develop, and potentially reach their goal of playing for the New York Islanders, is my focus.”
“I think there’s been a lot of growth in these guys,” Kowalsky continued. You look at what came in last year with (Ruslan) Iskhakov and (William) Dufour. I think (Samuel) Bolduc took a big step. (Arnaud) Durandeau who’s been around a couple more years. It’s a process in the American League and these guys have all taken steps.”
Dufour, Bolduc and Durandeau all made their National Hockey League debuts last season along with 2019 first-round pick Simon Holmstrom, who is also at this year’s Rookie Camp since he remains on an entry-level contract. By the way, this year’s camp will likely be as competitive as we’ve ever seen. Many roster spots on the big club will be up for grabs.
That list includes 2022 fifth-round pick Matthew Maggio, who won the Red Tilson Trophy as the Ontario Hockey League’s Most Outstanding Player last season. Maggio scored a career-high 54 goals and 111 points in 66 games with the Windsor Spitfires before turning pro with the Bridgeport Islanders in April.
“He had an unbelievable training camp (last season), we were really impressed and hoping we would be able to keep him,” Kowalsky said. Obviously, we made the decision, which was the right decision I think, to let him go back and grow in the OHL. He had a great year individually.”
“It’s still a big adjustment no matter how good of a year you had in juniors of college,” Kowalsky continued. “But his speed, his ability to score, things I saw in training camp. He wants the puck, he knows where to go on the ice, and he works to get there. He’s a competitive kid. Another guy I’m excited to work with in camp.”
Joining Kowalsky on the ice before New York’s main camp opens are new Bridgeport assistants Matt Macdonald and Pascal Rhéaume, who were recently hired on Sept. 1st. Along with Goaltending Coach Chris Terreri, there’s a lot of optimism heading into camp and towards Oct. 13th when the AHL Islanders open the regular season against the Rochester Americans.
One thing is certain. Kowalsky knows his role, his expectations, and is prepared to execute.