The Bridgeport Islanders will have a new head coach to begin the 2023-24 season, as Rick Kowalsky will now lead from behind the bench for the New York Islanders’ AHL affiliate.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) July 13, 2023
Kowalsky, 51, replaces Brent Thompson, who coached in Bridgeport for the last nine seasons. On Tuesday, it was announced that Thompson is joining the Anaheim Ducks as an assistant coach under Greg Cronin this season.
Kowalsky was once a part of the New Jersey Devils’ coaching staff from 2018-21 and served as the head coach of their AHL affiliate in Binghamton and Albany. For the last two seasons, he worked as an assistant under Thompson in Bridgeport, which were years that were pivotal to his own development as a coach.
“I really grew as a coach in those couple of years,” Kowlasky said as he was introduced on Friday. “Stepping back as an assistant, you’re in a little bit more of a development role as well with individual relationships with players.
But as he assumes his new role in Bridgeport, Kowalsky ushers in a new era for the club and the entire Islanders organization. Under Thompson’s leadership for the last nine seasons, the team experienced limited success. At the same time, the Islanders saw fewer and fewer prospects progressing through their developmental system as the years went on. To help aid the progression of his players toward the NHL, Kowalsky will take a more personal approach to his coaching.
“I think, sometimes, you focus so much on trying to win hockey games and how the team is playing within their structure and as a unit of five,” Kowalsky said. “I think that just gave me a little more perspective on focusing on the individual. What they want, and what their strengths their weaknesses are. When you evaluate them individually, whether it’s through video or communication and meetings, I plan to focus on those things a little bit more.”
Kowalsky now takes command of a Bridgeport team that is coming off a year in which they missed the playoffs in 2022-23 with a 34-30-7 regular season. But despite the disappointing conclusion to the year, many young prospects took steps forward in their development, and a few even made their NHL debuts.
Simon Holmstrom and Samuel Bolduc each both remained on Long Island following their call-ups, while others like William Dufour and Arnaud Durandeau featured in the NHL lineup at one point throughout the year.
“It’s a process in the American League, and I think these guys have all taken steps,” Kowalsky said. “I think there’s been growth for sure over these last two years.”
More growth should occur this year, with new players such as Matthew Maggio joining the fold. Before being named the OHL’s most outstanding player for the Windsor Spitfires in 2022-23, Maggio shined in front of the Islanders’ coaching staff during last season’s training camp.
“He had an unbelievable training camp,” Kowalsky said. “We were really impressed. Obviously, we made the decision, which was, I think, the right decision, to let them go back and really grow in the OHL. He had a great year. His speed and his ability to score were things I saw in training camp. He wants the puck. He knows where to go on the ice, and he works to get there. He’s a competitive kid, and the biggest thing is he’s a good kid.”
Kowalsky and the Bridgeport Islanders will begin their season on Friday, Oct. 13, when they visit the Rochester Americans and have their home opener at Total Mortgage Arena on Oct. 21 against the Utica Comets.