North Charleston, SC – In a move considered a surprise by many, Spiros Anastas has been relieved of his duties as the head coach of the South Carolina Stingrays and replaced with Steve Bergin. Steve Bergin found out just last night that he would be announced today as the new head coach. On hand for the announcement was majority owner Todd Halloran, team president Rob Concannon and Washington Capitals Director of Hockey Operations Jason Fitzsimmons.
“It’s been a wave of emotions…. But I’m just really excited for the opportunity,” said Bergin. “We want to be a team that is hard to play against every night. When a team sees us on their schedule, we want them to know it’s going to be a long night. We want to be the hardest working team in the ECHL. A team that defends and plays very hard.”
Bergin had been considered to be the front runner last year to replace Ryan Warsofsky who had left for an assistant coaching position with the Charlotte Checkers. Bergin said he didn’t have any hard feelings about remaining the assistant coach and looked at it as an opportunity to learn under a new head coach and get new insight.
“Honestly, it was probably the best thing for me,” Said Bergin.” I learned a lot this year, grew a lot this year. The whole process has probably been a blessing in disguise.”
The role of a head coach carries a heavy weight with it, and after being an assistant for the past three years, Bergin seems to grasp and embrace the challenges and opportunities facing him as a bench boss.
“As an assistant coach, you are a suggestion maker. as a head coach, you are a decision maker. (It’s the)the weight of (those) decisions and how there’s a direct impact the game.” Bergin further said, “You live and die by those (decisions), the ups and the downs.”
The decision to replace Spiros Anastas seems to have been more of a process than a reaction. Both Halloran and Concannon said they couldn’t point to a specific instance that triggered the decision but it was the year as a whole that seemed to lead to the decision.
“It was a long year for us, I feel like,” said concannon. “There wasn’t one necessary thing that warranted a change. When Todd (Halloran) and I sat back and dissected the season, the good points and bad points. There’s probably two areas that stick out. We lost 10 games (in a row) at home. and losing three straight at home in the playoffs and ending the season (that way) probably wasn’t the best. This wasn’t a decision that was easy. It was something we talked about and thought about long and hard. At the end of the day, we felt it was necessary to make a change to move in the direction we want to be in. And we felt because of Steve’s experience, his development as an assistant coach and his passion and understanding of the organization and what’s needed on and off the ice, in the community and in the locker room, that it was time to make a change.”
Spiros Anastas was given a roster that he didn’t build and through the ups and downs of the season still managed to get the Stingrays into the third seed in the South Division. But, it always seemed the highs were never that high, and the lows had deep curves. The Stingrays often looked flat throughout the year, going a paltry 17-17-2 at home.
“When you go over a lot of different things throughout the year, it would come down to philosophical differences,” said Concannon. “How we played and certain things throughout the season. I don’t necessarily want to touch on every one, but I feel like there were times where our team came out unspirited. Friday night in the playoffs was probably a perfect example. Again, it’s not an easy decision but it was one we felt was best.”
The organization seems ready to move on even as the playoffs continue, with Steve Bergin already having an eye on the future. Exit interviews with the players have already occurred, and the process to build the roster for the 2019-2020 season has begun.
“We had a lot of guys that came in, especially at the end of the year, that provided a lot of good sparks on defense and offense,” said bergin. “We had some pieces there at the end that were really good. It’s still a little early, we haven’t sat down and put together the exact list of who we are going to protect and qualify, but I think I have a pretty good idea of some of the guys that we are going to try to bring back. Personally, I’d like to add a little more veteran presence on the back end, a little more size. I like having some puck moving defensemen, but also like having some guys that can end plays. get some speed up front and let those guys take over. I’m going to be looking to add some size and grit on the backend. Overall, just some veteran presence all over the ice.”
The new head coach will need an assistant coach. After being the number two guy for three years, Bergin doesn’t know who will be his assistant, but he knows what he is looking for.
“I want a guy that works extremely hard. I know he is going to bring it everyday. I want a guy that can have a good relationship with the players. You need a guy that can kind of calm things down at times. A guy that loves the process of hockey. Loves going on the ice. Loves watching videos. Loves being around the guys. And to be honest, someone you have to be able to get along with. You spend a lot of time together. The office has no windows, there’s nothing to look out, so you are stuck with this guy for a lot of hours of the day. Someone I would have a personal connection with.
In about five months, Bergin will be stepping on the ice for the first time as a head coach. When asked if he will be more nervous or excited, he had this to say:
“I think you should definitely be nervous. If you’re not nervous, you’re probably not pushing yourself or challenging yourself enough. there’s going to be some nerves. There’s a lot of pressure to win here and do things right. I’ve taken a quote from Ryan Warsofsky, he says ‘pressure is a privilege.’ It’s a privilege to bear that pressure, to win here and compete and hold yourself to that standard. I’m eager to get things going and to put a team together that is going to compete, play hard and be hard to play against.
Last spring and summer, the organization went through a multitude of changes with new ownership and a change in the head coaching position that wasn’t filled until late in the summer. This year, Steve Bergin seems to be ahead of the curve with the changes, and he should be well positioned to take advantage of the free market to get the players he wants and needs — a luxury Anastas wasn’t afforded.
The organization as a whole seems to be headed in the right direction. Even with the .500 record at home, the Stingrays enjoyed a push in attendance numbers. They averaged 4,250 fans a game, their highest average attendance since the 2009-2010 season. Both Halloran and Concannon are optimistic about the upcoming season, and with the preliminary season schedule in hand, are already working on ways to enhance the fan experience. Halloran mentioned that they are working on new fan experiences, including some changes behind the scenes, to keep fans engaged and make the game day experience better for fans.
Follow all things South Carolina Stingrays from Travis Rogers on Twitter at @SinBinStingrays.