Following his January trade from Oshawa to Kingston, Michael Dal Colle was preparing for a lengthy playoff run and the possibility of a second consecutive Memorial Cup. However, his Ontario Hockey League season was abruptly ended when the Niagara IceDogs shockingly upset the Frontenacs in the second round of the playoffs.
The early exit has given the 19-year-old an opportunity to get a jump-start on his pro career. Following his fourth OHL season where he scored 35 goals and 45 assists in 60 games, Dal Colle joined the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for the conclusion of the American Hockey League regular season.
The chance to get an early taste of the next level is something Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson believes will pay dividends for Dal Colle moving forward.
“It’s a big step in development,” Thompson said on Wednesday as his team prepared for Game 3 of its first-round series with the Toronto Marlies. “At the end of the day, you’ve got a junior kid coming in getting a taste of the pro game before he even gets a start to his true pro career. I think that’s a huge step in the right direction.
“I think he’ll be that much further ahead coming into training camp.”
Dal Colle made his professional debut on April 15 when Bridgeport visited Portland. The Islanders’ 2014 first-round pick dressed in three regular season games for the Sound Tigers and has appeared in both of Bridgeport’s first two Calder Cup playoff games.
He’s yet to find the score sheet through five games with Bridgeport, but he’s gaining an understanding of what the pro game is all about.
“The transition has been a little bit tough getting used to the speed and the bigger guys out here, but I think it’s been great,” he said. “There’s a great group of guys in this locker room and they’ve been very welcoming towards me so it’s been a good transition.”
Despite a lengthy playoff run last spring with Oshawa where Dal Colle scored eight goals and 23 assists while helping the Generals win the franchise’s fifth Memorial Cup, the Woodbridge, Ont. native has noticed an obvious difference in pace during the Calder Cup playoffs.
“For me personally, I’m continuing to try to work on my speed and my game,” he said. “From junior to here, it’s so much faster, there’s less time and space so when you get your chances, you’ve got to make the most of them.”
Dal Colle is just getting his feet wet in the pro game, but Thompson has already seen signs of what makes the forward special. He’s also found Dal Colle to be an asset to his club on special teams.
“You could see he has hockey sense, he finds those scoring areas, he’s got a great shot – really his skill set and hockey sense are off the chart,” Thompson said. “For him to be successful, he’s got to continue to work at finding those (scoring areas) a little bit quicker.
“As far as moving forward with our team, right now, he’s comfortable on the power play. That’s one of the assets that he has is power play. He’s got good vision, he finds the places, when the puck goes to him, he’s a scoring threat every time.”
With the Sound Tigers facing elimination on Thursday, it’s uncertain how many more games Dal Colle will get at the AHL level this season, but what he needs to work on during the summer months is already clear.
“The biggest thing for DC is pace, he’s got to play at a pro pace,” Thompson said. “Coming from junior, I think he had a lot more time to make plays, get a shot off, find some of those pockets. Things happen a lot quicker here on a small rink, so he’s got to be ready to move his feet and find another gear as far as his pace.”
The six-foot-two, 198 pound forward feels the limited experience he’s gaining this spring, coupled with last season’s success, will be beneficial come training camp.
“Last year, that Mem Cup run was huge for me, but for me personally getting this pro experience heading into my third camp, it’s going to be big,” Dal Colle said. “I know it’s going to be good for me and I’m trying to take full advantage.”
Notes: Former Marlies goaltender Christopher Gibson will make his first start of the series in Game 3. The 23-year-old has not played since April 10 while with the Islanders. Matt Finn, a 2012 second-round pick of the Maple Leafs, will not play for Bridgeport on Thursday due to an upper body injury suffered in Game 2.