Sound Tigers Rookie Bellows comes in already improved

October 1, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — The name jumps out before you see Kieffer Bellows, and the shot jumps out once you do.

Watch a little more, and one more thing jumps out: He’s not taking just launching that shot from the perimeter.

“I’m really impressed with his battle level, his compete,” said Bridgeport Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson, who right now can deploy Bellows as one of his top forwards when the AHL season begins this weekend.

“He goes to the hard areas, and he gets to that net-front area hard, and he’s got a nice touch around it. He’s a scoring threat every time he’s on the ice. If you give him a little space and time, he finds a way to get a shot off.”

On a Sound Tigers team that looks to have as much talent up front as it has in a long time, Bellows is one of the more highly anticipated prospects in the group.

He was the first-round draft pick of the New York Islanders two years ago and impressed in training camp last month as he begins his first pro season.

“I think just creating the pace of play, getting used to that, getting used to the way the guys think the game faster than junior,” Bellows said of the adjustment from junior hockey, where he played for Portland (Ore.) last season, to professional hockey.

“Mike Johnston and the rest of the coaching staff did a great job preparing me for that.”

Bellows grew up in Minnesota, where his father, Brian, made a name for himself as a Minnesota North Star in the 1980s. Brian went on to win a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993 and score 1,022 career NHL points.

After the Islanders drafted Kieffer Bellows, he spent a year at Boston University before joining the Portland Winterhawks last season.

“It went really well. I loved playing in Portland. It’s a fantastic city,” Bellows said. “The coaching staff was fully NHL. Both the equipment manager and the strength and conditioning coach were NHL guys.

“The biggest thing was playing 72 games, getting used to the long season just like we have here in the AHL and NHL, taking care of your body in a fully professional way.”

Thompson said he saw a difference in Bellows’ pace, battle level and conditioning from last year’s training camp.

“He’s moving his feet harder. He’s getting to the hits, and he’s getting to the net, and he’s finding those areas,” Thompson said.

“His conditioning is better, and he moves to those spots better. I really like the effort he put in over the summer.”

Bellows said Bridgeport’s coaching staff will help him continue to develop.

That development began at home with a pretty good first teacher.

“My dad was the biggest influence on hockey in my life out of everyone,” Bellows said. “He’s the one who got me on skates. He’s the one helping me shoot pucks, learn how to skate, the long hours out on the pond.

“My mom (Tracy), too, she was the one getting me ready for practice at 6 a.m. down in Minneapolis.”

Bellows skated Monday at Webster Bank Arena on a line that Thompson thinks will get him the puck, with fellow rookie Ryan Hitchcock and veteran Steve Bernier.

The Sound Tigers sent four players to their ECHL affiliate in Worcester, Mass.: forward Josh Holmstrom, defensemen Tyler Mueller and Ryan MacKinnon, and goalie Mitch Gillam. They released five other players from tryouts, and all five joined Worcester, which opened its training camp Monday morning.

The parent New York Islanders need to cut to 23 men on Tuesday. They have a couple of moves to make, and they placed forward Tom Kuhnhackl on waivers Monday.

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp; blog.ctnews.com/fornabaio

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