Lawson Right At Home In Bridgeport

By Michael Fornabaio
Connecticut Post Online

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – The chain reaction brought him up to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Rick DiPietro gets hurt; Yann Danis goes up to the Islanders; Nathan Lawson comes up from Utah to Bridgeport in October without an AHL game to his credit.

“It’s a tough situation to come into,” Lawson said Monday. “Just being a call-up, you know you’re going to be sent back down. I’ve got to work hard, and I need to prove myself and show what I can do.”

Eight games into his AHL career, Lawson seems to have shown a lot.

Lawson has given up only 10 goals in those eight games, five of them in one night. He has stopped 171 of 181 shots, including 46 on the night he gave up those five goals.

When the Sound Tigers have needed Lawson, 25, to give Peter Mannino a rest, he has come through beyond expectations.

“He’s proven it to himself,” Bridgeport coach Jack Capuano said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence. His rebound control is great. He’s square to the puck. He looks really comfortable in net.”

A good season last year for Utah, the Sound Tigers’ ECHL affiliate, earned him an AHL/ECHL contract, basically making him Bridgeport’s No. 3 goalie.

The Islanders invited him to training camp this fall.

“He got a chance to play some of the best players in the world in NHL training camp,” Capuano said, “and he fit right in.” Lawson followed that up with 44 saves on 46 shots in three Bridgeport exhibition games before going to Utah to begin the season, winning his two decisions there.

“I had a good preseason. I knew I could play at this level,” Lawson said. “It was just a matter of getting a chance.” The chance came Nov. 8 against Lowell. Lawson came into the game midway through, needed to make only six saves without allowing a goal. He got the win when Mark Wotton scored in overtime.

His 19 saves the next night helped beat Hershey 4-1.

“It doesn’t hurt that the team I’m playing on … is limiting the chances the other team is getting,” Lawson said. “It’s not like I’m seeing 40, 30 shots a game.” (Well, except for that game in Binghamton early this month, when he stopped 46 of 51 shots and won in a shootout, but he’s on a roll here.)

“They’ve made me feel comfortable ever since Day 1.”

Lawson, a native of Calgary, Alberta, isn’t two years out of college.

He decided against a junior-hockey career to jump on the college track and had three good seasons at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. He said he got along well with his teammates, but he turned pro in 2007 after his junior year, feeling a lack of support from the school and its coaching staff.

He thought it would be easier to get a pro contract, but he ended up in the ECHL, with the Phoenix RoadRunners.

“I’ve always taken the tough road,” Lawson said. “There’s never been much given to me. I’ll work hard and start from the bottom and try to do the best I can.”

Only five games into his Roadrunners career, the team waived him when Dave McKee joined them.

“Now that I look back, it couldn’t have gone any better,” Lawson said. “At the time, it (stunk).”

But, remember, he got along with his teammates at UAA.

One of them was Justin Bourne, who played for Bridgeport and Utah last season.

“He vouched for me in Utah,” Lawson said. “That’s the only reason they picked me up.”

Lawson and former Sound Tiger Michael Mole carried the Grizzlies to the National Conference Finals in the Kelly Cup Playoffs in the spring.

Since coming up to Bridgeport, he has looked comfortable, making saves look easy, steering rebounds out of trouble. He handles the puck well, though he got into trouble Dec. 6, when Norfolk’s Jason Ward knocked him over behind the net and sent him out of action for two weeks.

He returned Dec. 21 with his first AHL shutout, 18 saves against Lowell.

“He’s really good in the room. He’s a great character guy,” Capuano said. “He’s a competitive guy. He doesn’t like to lose.”

He has not lost yet this year, but that’s no guarantee of a long-term spot. When DiPietro finally returns for good, Danis will have to return to Bridgeport.

“I consider this my team right now,” Lawson said. “These guys are like my family. We’ve bonded really well.”

“I’ve got to take it one day at a time,” he added. “I’m not going to worry about what other people do, or their health.”