Sound Tigers Koivula adapting to North America
BRIDGEPORT — He’s settling in a little, got an apartment with his girlfriend, adapting to life in Connecticut instead of Finland.
Otto Koivula is adapting to life on the ice in North America, too, playing his first pro game over here on Saturday for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
“My first game, I was a bit nervous,” Koivula said after Wednesday’s practice at Webster Bank Arena. “I didn’t play that much, but it was just a nice experience to feel the AHL. It was a first game. It’s going to be better.”
Koivula was on the fourth forward line in his AHL debut at Allentown, Pa., against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The timing of a few penalties helped limit him to a handful of shifts over the first two periods, but a little more regular turn in the third period. He was scratched the next day in Hershey.
“You want to get momentum for a young kid like that as much as possible, get him into a groove,” Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson said.
“With the penalties and different situations through the game, we probably didn’t get him out there as much as he would’ve liked it, but I thought it was a good introduction into the game. We’re doing a little video. I’m looking forward to see how he responds this weekend against Rochester.”
The Sound Tigers’ home opener is Saturday afternoon at 1 against the Americans, and the teams will meet again here Sunday at 3 p.m.
Koivula was the fourth-round draft pick of the New York Islanders, Bridgeport’s parent club, in 2016. He played the past two seasons for Ilves in Tampere, not far from his hometown, Nokia.
Getting to the NHL, though, is the dream.
“Here, everybody skates a lot faster and stronger than Finland. That’s the biggest difference,” Koivula said.
“I like that we skate a lot in practice, I like that. I have to improve my skating every day, so this helps.”
Koivula goes 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, and Thompson likes his hockey sense and his puck skills.
“For me, moving forward, it’ll be about improving his pace, improving just strength on the puck and using his body to his advantage,” Thompson said. “With his skill set, he should be able to control the walls, be able to attack the net.”
Thompson remembered one of Koivula’s last shifts Saturday, when he drove hard to the net, protected the puck and got his lone shot on goal of the night.
“He’s going to have to be, not necessarily physical where he’s running around and hitting people, but he’s got to use his body to his advantage,” Thompson said, “use that to be able to protect the puck and take it to the net, or find that ice at the front of the net and win those little puck battles in front, because he has such great hands, the touch around the net.”
NO KOVAR: The Islanders placed veteran centerman Jan Kovar on unconditional waivers on Wednesday. The former KHL star signed with the team in July, but he didn’t make the opening-night roster and never arrived in Bridgeport.
LEMAIRE IN TOWN: Hall of Famer Jacques Lemaire has been in Bridgeport the past couple of days. Lemaire, part of 11 Stanley Cup championships as a player, coach or executive, joined the Islanders organization recently as a special assignment coach.
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