SUMMERVILLE, SC – The Stingrays are off for their first road trip of the season. They will face the Norfolk Admirals in back to back games on Friday and Saturday. The team really can’t count the down and back from Jacksonville last weekend as a road trip. Real hockey road trips need to involve a hotel, team meal(s) and the typical shenanigans that go on when you get away from the player apartments, wives, girlfriends and usual distractions in Charleston. Most teams enjoy road trips and use them as an excellent chance to bond and form chemistry on and off the ice.
Stingrays Head Coach Ryan Warsofsky was gracious enough to spend a few minutes in a Q&A session with The Sin Bin and answer some questions about the upcoming road trip.
“It’s nice to get on the road, I think it helps with our bonding and helps with our chemistry and just getting to know your teammates. I think the guys are looking forward to it,” said Warsofsky.
The Admirals gave the Stingrays fits last year, as the Rays were only able to post a 2-3-1 record against them. When asked about preparing for this set and last year’s issues with the Admirals, Coach Warsofsky had some praise for his foes.
“It’s a whole different team, a new coach. Even though Robbie (Ftorek) came in half way through the season, he’s put his own hand in the mix, he’ll have these guys work and that’s something that really shocked us a bit last year, is how hard they worked and I’m sure it’ll be the same this year.”
Warsofsky also said that the Norfolk Scope Arena is a tough building to play in. The Rays will be under added pressure as this is Norfolk’s home opening weekend. The Stingrays have a very deep bench in this early part of the season and many talented players have not played yet this year. Warsofsky believes there will be some new faces in the lineup soon.
“We’ll probably see one or two new guys, we have to get these guys in the mix and keep them fresh. You’ll see (Travis) Walsh at some point, I think you’ll see (Robbie) Baillargeon at some point and Johnny McInnis, (Nick) Roberto, the list goes on with guys that we have in waiting with some depth and some speed.”
The Stingrays have won two games to open the season for the first time since the 2003-04 season but Warsofsky isn’t overly impressed.
“To be honest, I didn’t think we played great hockey,” he said. “We shook up the lines late in the third period against Jacksonville. I thought the (Dylan) Margonari line was pretty good but the other two need to pick it up. We’ll make some adjustments on that front but again, we have to play better hockey here going forward.”
The Stingrays look to capitalize on their opening weekend success and while fans are definitely happy with the results, the lack of dominating play from veteran players Nick Johnson and Jeremy Morin has been noticed. While both have played well during the opening weekend, the ability to single-handedly dominate a game like last year’s Rob Flick and Domenic Monardo has yet to materialize. Johnson’s adjustment to North American ice after seven years in Europe does not seem complete. Additionally, Morin, a late camp signing, does not look comfortable in the Stingrays blue-collar system yet. However, both players have tremendous upside and will most likely be stalwarts for the forward corps this year and fans by no means need to panic after only two games. Adjustment to new teams and the ECHL can take time and the Rays are in a perfect place to allow these potential elite players get adjusted and integrated into South Carolina’s systems.
As Warsofsky mentioned, the Margonari, Andrew Cherniwchan and Tim McGauley line has stood out in both games so far this season. Additionally, Steven Whitney has seemed to shrug off the injury that sidelined him last year and has posted two goals and an assist in the first two match ups.
The defensive corps, which the coaching staff had targeted in the off season to bring in players better at puck handling out of the D zone, has produced quite well. Four of the six blue liners that have played have notched at least a point and Frankie Simonelli leads the way with a goal and an assist.
Goaltending is as solid as ever with recently named ECHL Goalie of the Week, Jeff Jakaitis between the pipes. Eyes are still on Hershey as Phoenix Copley and Vitek Vanecek are on the mend and Parker Milner and Adam Carlson will need homes soon. While Jakaitis is a fan favorite and an excellent professional off of the ice with fans, Milner and Carlson also developed strong bonds within the organization and community last year. The coaching staffs in Hershey & North Charleston may have some tough decisions to make in the upcoming weeks. But those decisions will be in the future and the Rays are properly focused on the here and now.
It looks to be a great weekend of hockey in Norfolk as the Stingrays look to continue their early success against the Admirals.