AP NEWS

sound tigers Defense, not offensive numbers, main concern for Bellows

March 20, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — Over the course of his rookie season, Bridgeport Sound Tigers winger Kieffer Bellows has been concerned with improving his defensive game. What he’s not concerned about are his numbers.

“I’m a goal scorer. I’m always going to be,” Bellows said Tuesday as the Sound Tigers prepared for Wednesday’s home game against Toronto, the defending Calder Cup champions.

“I’m never going to lose that. I’m a guy who can put the puck in the net when I’m hot and even when I’m not hot.”

Bellows doesn’t have a goal in his past 15 games, stuck at 11 in 61 games. He has just one assist in that span, which came earlier this month, picking off a pass in Toronto and getting a shot on net that Jeff Kubiak cleaned up. Think of plus/minus what you will, but he’s minus-15, including a minus-7 over those 15 games.

But his coach sees the work ethic, sees him still going to the hard areas of the ice where goals often come from, and isn’t concerned.

“I think Kieffer is a kid that this year has had some growing pains, but overall, you look at his game, where he’s at, where he’s going to be, he’s got a huge upside,” Brent Thompson said.

“He’s got an NHL shot. He thinks the game well. He works hard. You watch practices, you see him here day to day, he works extremely hard. He wants to get better. He wants to be the best.”

Bellows — drafted 19th overall in 2016 by the Islanders — needs to get stronger, Thompson said, which is a pretty common refrain on rookies, and Bellows won’t turn 21 until June. The coach wants Bellows to keep moving his feet on the ice, and he wants him physically engaged; even with some strength to come, Bellows is listed at 6-foot-1, 195, a big frame.

“He’s going to be an NHL player. He’s going to be an NHL star,” Thompson said. “He shoots the puck. He has some offensive instincts that you can’t teach. So we want to build the rest of his game around it so he becomes more of a complete player.”

It’s an adjustment moving from junior hockey to pro hockey, one way or another. Off the ice, he’s living with Kubiak and defenseman Chris Casto, keeping it loose at home, playing some ping pong, watching TV.

On the ice, Bellows feels his all-around game has improved a lot, particularly in the defensive end.

“My pace of play in the defensive zone is probably the biggest thing right now. I’ve got to keep that going, keep battling,” Bellows said.

Positioning is another key, he said, “to disrupt plays, and not just disrupt the guy that I’m with, but support my other guys in the defensive zone if they get beat, or if they need me for support on the breakout.”

This year for Bellows has reminded Thompson of Michael Dal Colle’s rookie season two years ago. There were some flashes of the player he’d become, but it took a while to get everything together. Dal Colle was an AHL all-star this season.

“Now Dal Colle’s in the NHL,” Thompson said, “and who knows if we’ll ever get him back?”

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