The newly appointed head coach of the NY Islanders AHL affiliate the Bridgeport Islanders, Rick Kowalsky, has been around the organization and Lou Lamoriello long enough to know what is expected of him. Now, as a head coach, he'll directly impact the development of some of the Islanders' top young prospects, but Kowalsky's first order of business is to build a staff around him.
"We're just going to have to get into this pretty quick as far as what we're going to go with as far as a staff and what it's going to look like," said Kowalsky via video conference. "This has kind of happened so quick in the last couple of days we haven't been able to dive into that, but that's probably priority number one right now."
Kowalsky would say he expects goalie coach Chris Terreri to back with the team next season.
Much has been said about former Head Coach Brent Thompson's lack of development during his tenure with the Islanders. Kowalsky understands the importance of preparing the organization's top prospects for the next level and will look to do so from day one in his new position.
"I think myself personally, spending a year in development in New Jersey really gave me a different perspective," said Kowalsky. "But I think that's the biggest thing, is just honing in on each player, kind of understanding what their strengths, what their weaknesses are and then when you evaluate them individually whether it's through video or communication and meetings; I plan to focus on those things a little bit more, not just where you fit into the puzzle as a player on this team."
While winning is always important at any level, what the organization truly hopes to get out of its minor league affiliate is a player ready to compete on the sport's biggest stage once given the opportunity. For many on Bridgeport's roster, they hope to get someday soon their chance to make an impact with the NHL Islanders.
"I think there's been a lot of growth with a lot of these guys," Kowalsy said. "You look at kind of what came in this year with (Ruslan) Iskhakov, and (William) Dufour and new, younger prospects; I think (Samuel) Bolduc took a big step this year, Arnie Durandeau who's been a round a couple more years... But I think it's a process in the American League. I think these guys have all taken steps. If you look at William Dufour, he had a good year, and there's lots of room for improvement."
One of the new faces stepping into the team this year is reigning OHL Player of the Year Matthew Maggio. Drafted as an overage player in 2022, Maggio has high expectations stepping into the AHL after the performance he put on during his final year of juniors.
"To be honest with you, he had an unbelievable training camp. We were really impressed and we were hoping we'd be able to keep him," said Kowalsky. "Obviously we made the decision which I think was the right decision to let him go back and really grow in the OHL.
Playing three games with Bridgeport to end the season, Kowalsky hopes to build on Maggio's short stint with the team.
"It's still a big adjustment." said Kowalsky "No matter how good of a year you have in junior or college, you're coming in, you're playing against men, 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, and he's a competitive kid. The biggest thing is he's a good kid."
Kowalsky's first game in charge is on October 13 as the B-Isles open their season against the Rochester Americans.