NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Entering the 2018-19 season, the South Carolina Stingrays are the second-longest tenured team in the ECHL. But, ‘new’ is the keyword heading into the season.
New ownership. New head coach. New faces. New opportunities.
After a multi-record setting defensive year, the Stingrays found themselves unceremoniously swept from the playoffs in the first round. The Stingrays organization found themselves with a long summer to ponder what should have been and how to reorient and prepare for the upcoming campaign.
Nuts and Bolts:
2017-18 Record: 48-16-7-1 (104 points)
Division/Conference Finish: 2nd in South Division / 2nd in Eastern Conference
Playoff Finish: Swept in the South Division semifinals by Orlando
Record vs. Division: 40-13-5-1
Record vs. Conference: 46-13-6-1
Goals For Per Game: 2.97 (T-16th in ECHL)
Goals Against Per Game: 2.13 (1st in ECHL)
Power Play: 51 goals in 287 attempts, 11th in ECHL
Penalty Kill: 258 penalties killed in 285 attempts, first in ECHL
Can head coach Spiros Anastas, the first head coach not promoted from within the organization, continue the success of his predecessors? He brings 10 years of coaching experience to the Stingrays organization with a Calder Cup as well as promotions in World Junior Cup and World Cup play on his resume.
Can the Stingrays maintain the high level of defensive play they have maintained over the past several years? The blueline returns mainstays Joey Leach and Marcus Perrier. The other five defensemen have 22 games of ECHL experience between them. Overall, it is a talented group but there may be a steep learning curve for some as they enter the season.
Can the Stingrays get consistent and plentiful scoring out of the forward corps? The Stingrays have only been in the top ten of ECHL scoring one time in the past seven years (thanks to a seventh-place finish in goal for in 2016). A move to bring in faster and more agile forwards this offseason has been noticeable during training camp and the preseason games. But it remains to be seen if the new infusion of talent can produce night in and night out during the grind of the ECHL season.
Coach Anastas on what fans should expect this year:
“I think they should be really excited for an exciting brand of hockey. A team that is going to be built and dedicated to winning. But doing that by doing things right. Focusing on our processes and making sure that we give our best every night so everyone can be proud of us.”
The Goalies – Reigning ECHL Goaltender of the Year, Parker Milner returns for his third season with the organization and he will be backed up by seventh-year pro Adam Morrison who is returning to the Stingrays after signing an AHL deal with the Hershey Bears in the offseason. These are two hungry goalies that will be competing for time in the net and are trying to prove they belong in the AHL.
Grant Besse – The 5th round 2013 NHL draft selection by the Anaheim Ducks had a breakout year as a rookie with the Norfolk Admirals. He posted 30 goals and 32 assists in 62 games in the ECHL and a goal and six assists in 11 AHL contests. He was signed to an AHL deal by the Hershey Bears over the summer and the Stingrays obtained his ECHL rights from Norfolk in a trade for Taylor Cammarata. His ability to produce will be paramount for the Stingrays this year.
Jake Kamrass – The rookie put on an impressive display at the end of last season. His five goals and nine assists in 12 games to finish out the regular season caught the attention of nearly everyone in the Charleston area and beyond. He started this year on a PTO in Hershey and played in one preseason game with them before being sent down. If he can come into the regular season and duplicate his efforts from last year, he will garner some more looks from AHL teams.
Gone but Not Forgotten:
Trevor Gillies – The former NHLer and enforcer has retired. Teams played differently against the Stingrays when he was in the lineup. He was unapologetic about his on-ice role. However, where the team will miss him the most is in the locker room. His experience and ability to help pull a room together and helping guide the younger players in the ways of being a good professional will be missed.
Joe Devin – The captain of the team for the past two years is not returning. He was a clutch playoff player his first three years with the team including the game seven triple-overtime winner in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals against Toledo. His ability to score timely and important goals will need to be replaced for the team to move in the right direction.
Danny Federico – The stay at home defenseman was never flashy but he was a superb stay at home defenseman. His bread and butter was being in the right spot at the right time to break up plays. He was a combined +40 during his two seasons with the team. He didn’t necessarily garner attention from fans the way other defensemen did but his steady play on the penalty kill and even strength play was a major contributing factor to the team’s success.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
The Stingrays are going to be faster and more high scoring than in the past several years. However, the South Division, as a whole, got bigger and tougher this offseason. The Stingrays will have to dig deep if they wish to remain as one of the elite teams in the South. Due to injuries in Washington and Hershey, there are about 3-4 fewer skaters on the roster from the affiliates to start the season. The good news is that as most other teams start to be negatively impacted by call-ups, the Stingrays will most likely begin receiving more top-tier talent from Hershey.
The Stingrays have to get off to a good start and generate scoring chemistry with their forwards. The forward corps has the rawest talent as I have seen on the team in several years. But the issue is that it is raw talent. The opening night roster will most likely feature 11 forwards that are either rookies or second-year professionals. Veteran leaders Patrick Gaul and Andrew Cherniwchan will be major factors in how fast the forwards come together. If they can get the lines communicating and clicking early, the forwards have the ability to become a very deadly force on the ice.
The defense is anchored by two of the best in the South Division. Leach and Perrier have the experience and toughness to go up against the best in the league. They will be joined by a bevy of talented rookies that are going to be hard-pressed to maintain the reputation the Stingrays have developed over the past several seasons. I think they still need one more experienced blueliner to take the group to the next level but as they stand now, they will still be a top 10 defensive unit.
At the end of the day, the Stingrays are going to be a fun team to watch and will be in the hunt for the playoffs all season long. It will be a tough battle for them to get to the postseason, but how far they go is up in the air. The length of their postseason run will largely be dependent on the team maintaining their focus on the round at hand during the push to capture their fourth Kelly Cup.
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