Sound Tigers Off stellar rookie year, Gillam where he wants to be

September 24, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — On his 26th birthday Monday morning, Mitch Gillam stepped onto the ice at Webster Bank Arena for Bridgeport Sound Tigers training camp with a pretty solid first pro season behind him since his 25th birthday.

That year past earned him an AHL contract for this season, and though the goalie has a couple of veterans ahead of him, he says he’s ready for whatever the year brings him.

“I wasn’t really looking too far outside of here. I just kind of waited until they gave me an offer,” Gillam said. “The group of guys we have in there is a lot of fun. I feel like we bonded last year.”

Gillam was a rookie out of Cornell last season. He attended rookie camp, then training camp with the New York Islanders, Bridgeport’s parent club, then from Bridgeport’s camp went to the Sound Tigers’ ECHL affiliate, the Worcester Railers, along with Eamon McAdam (who was traded to Toronto in July).

“First impression last year was, wow, good goalie,” Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson said.

“He earned playing time in Worcester. It looks like he’s taken another step.”

All Gillam did in Worcester last year was become the league’s top rookie goalie, posting a .925 save percentage and carrying the load through the last quarter of the season.

“When (McAdam) got called up, Jamie (Russell, Worcester’s coach) just threw me in the net and didn’t take me out,” Gillam said.

“I think that happens a lot with goaltenders. You start getting in a zone and just love playing the game. It doesn’t matter. It’s kind of like unconscious. You just play out there.”

Gillam played nine games in a row beginning on Feb. 15, starting the last eight. After a day off, he played the next 13. He went 15-4-2 in that stretch, allowing just 37 goals, helping the Railers come from far back to earn a playoff spot.

“It was a ton of fun. We had 15 rookies on the team at the time. We had guys coming up from college. We had guys coming back from Bridgeport,” Gillam said. “It was a great first year pro for me. I think the bonding aspect, we were all living in the same apartment building. We just needed to figure it out after the first half of the season.”

Gillam was one of 25 players on the ice Monday morning, but even as the last of them were stepping onto the rink, the parent Islanders sent eight other players down, including veteran goalie Jeremy Smith.

The Islanders placed five other players on waivers: goalie Christopher Gibson, defenseman Seth Helgeson and forwards Steve Bernier, Tanner Fritz and Mike Sislo. All could come to Bridgeport if they clear on Tuesday.

That might not leave room for Gillam in Bridgeport when the season starts Oct. 6, but there are always opportunities over the course of a season.

“I want to get in as many games as possible with Bridgeport,” Gillam said. “Just battling with Gibby, Smitty and Boots (Evan Buitenhuis) if they end up signing him.

“Just working with them, learning from them. I think Gibby’s an exceptional goaltender, and Smitty’s got a some great experience from the NHL.”

Bridgeport added veteran defenseman Chris Casto on an AHL contract. He has played 306 AHL games for Providence and Chicago.

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

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