NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -– The South Carolina Stingrays enter training camp for the 2018-2019 season with many questions surrounding the organization. There is a new head coach in place, many new faces, and several familiar faces missing. Change is inevitable in minor league hockey and the Stingrays have done an excellent job over the past few years in keeping a core group of leaders in place while bringing fresh young talent into the organization. This year is a bit different as Spiros Anastas comes in from outside the organization to take the reigns over from Ryan Wasofsky.
Spiros Anastas was gracious enough to sit down for a Q&A session on the eve of training camp to discuss his preparations for the upcoming season and the putting together the puzzle pieces to form the opening night roster.
Thoughts on training camp
Travis Rogers, The Sin Bin: What are your thoughts coming into your first professional training camp as a head coach?
Spiros Anastas, Stingrays Head Coach: First off I am really excited. I’ve always been a coach that’s treated every job and every team that I’ve worked with as a professional setting. I have my process, there’s things that I tweak and adjust every single season regardless where I am coaching. Because that’s what coaches need to do to continue to learn and continue to get better every year……. I’m just super excited to get started with these guys and our staff and our people and just making sure that I am completely prepared for day one.
TSB: Monday morning when you step on the ice for the first time as the Stingrays head coach, do you think you’ll have any butterflies or are you over that?
SA: This is my 10th year of coaching. So the butterflies stepping on the ice will not be any nervousness but more just excitement kicking in. The only time I get nervous is when Steve Bergin forces me to play a three-on-three game, then I’ll be the least skilled guy on the ice. But other than that, it’ll just be excitement and nothing else.
Relationships with the affiliates
TSB: Where you able to establish a good relationship with Spencer Carbery and the Hershey Bears organization during your time at Hershey’s training camp?
SA: We actually first met a couple of years ago with the Canadian U17 program, so we talked a little this summer and now we finally got to sit down and chat a little bit of hockey and prospects and Capitals, Bears, Stingrays hockey. We really, I think, hit it off and looking forward to leaning on him for advice, since he has sat in my chair before but also to communicate on the development of his players that we have and also guys that maybe coming down to see what the plans are for them and what he wants from us in terms of their developmental process as well.
TSB: What was the biggest takeaway from your time up in Hershey?
SA: The biggest takeaway is how in line and streamlined this organization is. From Washington to Hershey to us, we try to things as streamlined as possible so we can make the developmental process and the transition process for guys moving up or down as seamless as possible. In terms of what Hershey has there, I think they have a really young and excited team with great prospects. I think this year is going to be really focused on development. I think that’s what our focus at this level is all the time as well. They have a great staff up there. We talked about Spencer. But meaning (assistant coaches) Patrick Wellar, Mike Eastwood and even (goaltending coach) Alex Westlund, (strength and conditioning coach) Mike Wagner and (video coach) Mike King. They just have a great staff that’s really excited. I think the organization is in great shape right now and I just walked away from there feeling just happy to be a part of it.
Setting the Stingrays roster
TSB: The Stingrays only have five defensemen signed and are likely to only receive a couple from the affiliation this year. How do you address the depth at defense and how do you avoid complacency and keep things competitive for those here at camp?
SA: At the end of the day this is the ECHL and I think you are fighting for a spot week to week. I think these guys know that. We got some smart guys back there. A couple out of college, a couple that got a taste of it like Mike Chen. A couple of veteran guys…….. I think those guys are hungry, smart individuals that really care about this team and they know what the ECHL is about and what to expect. So they know week to week the competition is there. If you asked me this question in February I think it would be the same response. So they are going to be hungry enough because they are all competitors and really good people. In terms of our depth on defense, we are looking at potentially, one, two or three guys down at any point during the season so we do need to plan for that and how we are going to develop them. We are looking to sign one or two guys additionally there too. It’s been a tough market for defense this summer. We are not panicking because we know what we are getting from our affiliates. But it’s been a tough summer. There’s been some guys that retired across the league including a couple of guys that may have been expected to come back as Stingrays. So you just have to deal with that and make sure you stay on the available players. The guys falling through the cracks in training camps and stuff like that. Steve (Bergin) and I believe we are in a pretty good spot with our roster and that we are going to be just fine.
TSB: The Stingrays have 16 signed forwards and will receive two, three or more from the affiliates as well. How do you sort that out and are you looking at trade options?
SA: We’ve talked to some teams about some potential moves. There are some guys that have garnered some attention around the league. All 16 that were signed prior to my hiring are still signed today. I talked real closely with Ryan Warsofsky and Steve Bergin. There was a plan there to increase some competition, increase guys battling for certain roles. We’re going to stay steady with that plan. We want guys to come in and try to earn a spot. We are going to be a little younger up front and we think we got some great talent. In terms of the extra pieces, if there are moves that can be made, we will make those moves. Anyone who hasn’t played a professional hockey game can’t be traded until the final rosters are decided. So some really good players we are going to have to let walk. That’s just the nature of the ECHL and the rules and regulations. But we think the compete level in our camp is going to be through the roof. We have two exhibition games and guys are going to be competing really hard. A testament to that is how many guys have come early and been skating every day already at The (Carolina) Ice Palace on their own. Guys are here and kind of geared in and ready to earn a spot.
Training camp starts on October 1st at the Carolina Ice Palace and is open to the public. The training camp roster has not been officially released yet and will include a few PTO players as well as those signed and not in camps in the AHL. Additions will be made as players are released or assigned from their respective AHL clubs.