NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Stingrays are off to one of their hottest starts in over a decade and will look to keep the momentum going while they wrap up a five-game homestand with a pair against Atlanta on Friday and Saturday. The Sin Bin was able to spend a few minutes with Coach Ryan Warsofsky to look back on the first part of the season and ahead at the Atlanta set this weekend.
Coach Warsofsky had this to say when asked about the fast start and his impressions so far,
“You can probably say we haven’t even played our best hockey. I think we have a lot more. Especially offensively. I think compared to last year’s team we are way better defensively. We are a smarter team. Not that we weren’t smart but we picked up concepts really early in training camp with this group of players. We’re 7-1 but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Warsofsky said that he felt their best game so far was the second matchup against Norfolk but that their toughest foe so far has been Reading and they will be a team to reckon with. He also anticipates Florida being a top-tier team again when they see them in December. The Stingrays will need to pick it up offensively as five of their seven wins were by only one goal. There is no question that defense, a tradition over the last few years in Charleston, wins games. But what remains is how much longer can the Rays continue to win the close games before they get a few flipped on them, as they did to Reading on Tuesday.
The Stingrays had to rely on veteran Patrick Gaul to fill in on defense the past few games. Due to call-ups and injuries and a one-game suspension to Joey Leach, the Stingrays suddenly found themselves down to five healthy D-men for the two games against the Reading Royals. Adding quality depth at the blue line was a priority in the off season for the Stingrays and it so far has paid off. He thought that the Rays had problems stick handling on the back end last year so they brought in Frankie Simonelli, Mike Krieg and Travis Walsh and he has been very pleased with them so far.
After the first weekend of play there was some line shuffling and chemistry has started to settle in with many of the players. When asked about the lines and big uptick in production from Nick Johnson, Coach Warsofsky had this to say:
“I thought though him (Johnson), Gaulsey and Devs (Joe Devin) were really good. They’ll go back together tonight. So that will help us I think. That line really clicks. (Kelly) Zajac and (Steven) Whitney have been really good.”
The Andrew Cherniwchan, Dylan Margonari and Tim McGauley line has also played well together. He also believes that Margonari is close to being where he was last year prior to his season-ending injury and that once he is 100 percent, the Stingrays will have three balanced lines that can score.
When looking ahead at the weekend pairing with Atlanta, Coach Warsofsky knows that this isn’t the Atlanta Gladiators of the past. The five-game win streak that the Glads are currently on can be attributed to the new coach and systems and structure that are in place. Additionally, Atlanta is a tougher and more physical team than in the past. The fact that Atlanta is winning could be a concern as it can be contagious and winning can turn their culture around and that may cause the Stingrays and rest of the South Division problems down the road.
Looking at the matchup for this weekend, look for Jeff Jakaitis to get the start on Friday with Parker Milner getting the nod on Saturday. McGauley should be returning to the line-up and Gaul will transition back to forward with Leach off of his one game suspension. Lines for the Stingrays should look similar to the games against Norfolk a few weeks ago. Looking at their foes, Atlanta will have goalie Dan Vladar back from the Providence Bruins. Atlanta has four players averaging over a point a game, including two former Stingrays, Alex Gacek and Lindsey Sparks. Trevor Gillies may find a dancing partner in Tanner Pond as the rookie will continue to make a name for himself for the Atlanta Gladiators.