By Peter Schwartz
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There are a number of bonds that Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang share.
They were both drafted in the first round by the Islanders in 2014 with Dal Colle going fifth and Ho-Sang 28th overall. They’ve been friends a long time going back to their junior days and now are teammates with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ AHL affiliate.
They enjoyed brilliant junior careers, and are now making the transition to the pro game together.
“It’s been good,” Dal Colle told WFAN.com during a recent phone interview. “Josh is a tremendously skilled player. Just going through this experience with him definitely makes it easier. Living with him off the ice as well … I’ve known him pretty much my whole playing career.”
Ho-Sang, who plays both center and right wing, and Dal Colle, a left wing, rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in scoring for Bridgeport.
Dal Colle put up a combined 80 points during the regular season in 2015-16 with Oshawa and Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League. He then added 18 points in nine playoff games for Kingston. Through 31 games with Bridgeport this season, he has seven goals and 14 points.
Transitioning to the pro game has been a challenge.
“I’m playing against men and not playing against kids your own age anymore,” Dal Colle said. “The rate of play is a lot faster here. It’s a little bit of an adjustment, but I think I’m adjusting pretty well.”
Ho-Sang has played in 27 games for Bridgeport and has tallied 15 points, including 12 assists. There have been a few games that he’s watched from the press box, a subject he didn’t want to discuss with me, but he did acknowledge that his time so far with Bridgeport has been a learning experience and his game has continued to evolve.
“It’s definitely getting there,” Ho-Sang said. “It’s all a process. You get better every game. I need to work on my play away from the puck, but I’ll always need to work on that. Up and down … hills were made to be climbed.”
One of those hills is earning the same kind of ice-time that he had in juniors. In 66 regular season games last season for Niagara in the OHL, Ho-Sang was quite the playmaker, amassing 82 points including 63 assists. He then added another 26 points in 17 playoff games.
Ho-Sang was getting anywhere from 18 to 20 minutes of ice-time in juniors, but that number has dropped at Bridgeport to anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes a game, and sometimes less.
“I miss not being the go-to guy on your team,” Ho-Sang said. “It’s coming along. I’m a rookie here, so I’m not too stressed about it. I know it’s going to get better.”
One person who will swear by that on Ho-Sang’s behalf is Dal Colle, who has enjoyed tremendous chemistry with his friend when they’ve been on the same line. Ho-Sang estimates that they skated together in about eight games, with Dal Colle tallying five of his seven goals.
Despite his talents, Ho-Sang has not been able to avoid negative publicity, like showing up late to the first day of Islanders training camp last year and subsequently getting sent back to juniors. When it comes to him eventually getting called up and his relationship with the Islanders, all you have to do is read between the lines to see there is tension.
“I know that they’re in last place right now,” Ho-Sang said. “I just want to play better and force their hand. They obviously need to figure out some stuff up there. I can just control what I can and play as well as I can down here and, ultimately, they make the call whenever they feel like it. My phone is always on. Personally, I haven’t been talking to management that much, so I don’t know what’s going on with them. Whatever they want to do with me, they’re more than welcomed to.”
While there are have been many negative things written and said about Ho-Sang, his buddy Dal Colle has a different perspective. He knows Ho-Sang as well as anyone, lives with him, and is his teammate. He believes that a lot the stories about Ho-Sang are unfair.
“I know he’s a great kid,” Dal Colle said. “Most people don’t really know him off the ice, but I’ve known him for a very long time. He’s a great friend and one of the most loyal people I’ve ever met. He’s obviously a great hockey player, but he’s an even better person.”
When it comes to Dal Colle’s game, finding the back of the net is his specialty, especially when he can find some space in front of the net. Over his last three years in juniors, Dal Colle lit the lamp 39, 42 and 35 times, many with a shot that Ho-Sang says is “lethal.”
“I think that Islanders fans have no idea what they actually have, but you get that guy in the slot and he’s money,” Ho-Sang said.
Perhaps at some point in the not-to-distant future, Dal Colle will bring his big shot up to the NHL. Between now and then, he will continue to work, learn a little more about the pro game, and try to help the Sound Tigers make the playoffs. It’s not known if he keeps his phone on all the time like Ho-Sang does, but that call from Long Island is going to come eventually.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Dal Colle said. “As a player, you want to get there as quick as possible. I’m just taking it one step at a time. I’m trying to do my best at this level. At the end of the day, whether I get called up next week, next month or next year, I’m just trying to work hard here.”
There’s no question that Dal Colle and Ho-Sang both have the talent to play in the NHL one day and that opportunity could come sooner rather than later depending on how the rest of this season goes for the Islanders. As it stands now, the Isles might be more inclined to have Dal Colle on speed dial, but if Ho-Sang can get some things straightened out, maybe general manager Garth Snow will be arranging a conference call to Bridgeport.
For Islanders fans that want to get a sneak peek at Dal Colle and Ho-Sang, the Sound Tigers are back home at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport at 7 p.m. on Jan. 14 against Utica.
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @TheSoundTigers, @MDalColle71, and @66jhosang