KOSKINEN GETS AN AUDITION THIS WEEKGoalie says North American rinks "feel like home"

In one of the rookie games in Boston on Wednesday and Thursday, Mikko Koskinen is going to wear an Islanders uniform and start in goal. After a challenging first year in North America last season, Koskinen cannot wait to face the Bruins in an NHL rink.

 

“It’s going to feel good to play a game as an Islander, and really just play a hockey game again,” said Koskinen, the Islanders’ selection with the first pick in the second round of the 2009 draft. “Last year was tough at times, but it ended up okay and now I’m just looking forward.”

 

You can’t blame him. After playing only two games in Bridgeport (AHL), the 6-6 goaltender from Finland needed hip surgery performed by Colorado-based specialist Dr. Marc Philippon, who has operated on Garth Snow, Rick DiPietro, Mario Lemieux, Alex Rodriquez and many other professional athletes. Koskinen was off the ice for two months before rehabilitation began.

 

However, he ended his rookie year in the organization on a very optimistic note. In search of a place where the prized prospect could tend goal regularly and in a less-pressurized environment, the Islanders sent Koskinen to their East Coast Hockey League affiliate in Utah. Koskinen was unbeaten in six regular season games, posting a 2.50 GAA, and played well for the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.

 

While the biggest challenge for the Finn was expected to be the adjustment to North American rinks – specifically, the smaller ice surfaces and the different shooting angles that come with them – Koskinen is convinced that he has made the transition.

 

“These angles are not a problem,” he said with confidence. “These rinks in North America feel like home to me now.”

 

Most importantly, Koskinen made it through the conditioning stint without any pain or discomfort.

 

“I have to thank the doctors and the trainers,” Koskinen said at Islanders rookie camp. “I felt great playing in Utah and I feel stronger than ever now.”

 

A rookie game a few days before the official start of Islanders training camp is not going to make or break a prospect – especially a high-end goalie talent like Koskinen. But the games in Boston could provide head coach Scott Gordon with one of the few looks he’ll get at Koskinen during camp.

 

“With such a short exhibition schedule, there are only going to be so many opportunities,” said Gordon, referring to the Islanders’ NHL preseason slate of five games played on just three nights (two will be split-squad). “I look forward to seeing Mikko in action.”

 

Gordon confirmed that Koskinen and fellow prospect Kevin Poulin will each start a game in Boston.

 

Asked if he was ready to be the No. 1 goaltender in Bridgeport this season, Koskinen smiled and said, “Definitely.”

 

Notes: Islanders regular season tickets are on sale at the Coliseum box office and through Ticketmaster on Wednesday beginning at 10:00 am. To those of you who emailed with tales of “sticker shock” when you saw the increased over-the-counter prices on some seats, one solution could be to inquire about discounted partial plans. Call 1.800.882.ISLES and tell the Islanders’ sales force 1. Point Blank sent ya and 2. StubHub already has plenty of seats available for the home opener and Game 2 against the Rangers. Hopefully, they’ll make you an offer you cannot refuse.

 

As I tweeted on Tuesday, rookie games are good for fans and people in the business starved for hockey, but ultimately mean very little in the big picture. As an example, this week’s tilts in Boston will include top prospects like Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic, Nino Niederreiter and Tyler Seguin, but they’ll also feature some unsigned youngsters who will never even see the AHL. Yesterday in Traverse City, Carolina whipped Columbus, 8-1. Think that means anything? (Okay, Jeff Skinner did get five points, which is cool).

 

Anyway, Point Blank will have an educated pair of eyes at the games. If anything significant comes out of the games, I’ll do my best to publish a short post.

 

The Islanders’ lineup will be culled from this group of youngsters skating this week in Syosset:

 

G: Koskinen, Poulin

 

F: Casey Cizikas, Justin DiBenedetto, Robin Figren, Kirill Kabanov, Niederreiter, Rhett Rakhshani, Tony Romano, David Ullstrom, plus invitees Alex O’Neil (Brampton, OHL) and Justin Taylor (London, OHL – unsigned Capitals sixth round pick).

 

D: de Haan, Tony DeHart, Hamonic, Mark Katic, Anton Klementyev and invitees Corey Syvret (Guelph, OHL – unsigned Panthers sixth round pick) and Steven Tarasuk (London, OHL).

 

Bostonbruins.com is streaming both games, and no doubt newyorkislanders.com and Newsday will have complete reports. Hey, no matter how you look at it, hockey is back. That’s a very good thing.

 

Unheralded Islanders prospect to watch – David Ullstrom. More on him later. If Alex O’Neil plays, chances are you’re going to hear his name a few times on the broadcast.

 

The Islanders and Bruins have a rule this week: once a player has been engaged in two fights, he’s out of the two-game series. For example, if an Islander fights twice in the first period of tonight’s game, he is ejected and has to sit out the rookie game on Thursday. That’s sensible. There will be some fights, but not so many that it gets ridiculous.

 

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