NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Being a rookie in minor league hockey is never easy. Whether coming in from the college ranks or a major junior league, learning to be a pro, on and off the ice, has a learning curve that is different for every player. Some make the adjustment and thrive and others do not. It can be a frustrating process. Players that were the grey-beards in their former locker room in the spring suddenly find themselves in the fall as the youngest player on the team. They are often playing with players that are older by a decade or more than they are. They have to make a mental transition from being the go-to player for their former club to being patient and having to earn minutes and prove themselves all over again.
Cameron Askew hasn’t taken a traditional route for an American born player to professional hockey. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, he grew up in a hotbed of New England hockey. Yet at the age of 16, he found himself playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Moncton Wildcats.
“I got drafted into the Q, I went up there and checked it out and I really liked it. I thought it would be a good route for me to make it and be a good pro. It’s not a conventional route for kids I grew up with, kids from Boston, but I have no regrets and I am happy I did it. I think it prepared me very well for where I am at.”
While most of his friends and peers were finishing high school and looking at colleges, Askew was moving to a different country and a completely different culture.
“I was 16 when I went up there. I lived in a French billet. So it was a little bit of a change but a great experience. I enjoyed my time up there. We played a pro schedule, the fans are pretty crazy, there are some good rivalries too.”
Signed by former head coach Ryan Warsofsky in the offseason, Askew made the jump to the pro ranks with the South Carolina Stingrays.
“It’s been great so far. I think the Q really helped my transition. The guys in the room have treated me like I am one of the guys. Ever since day one I have felt comfortable. I love it here. On the ice at the start of the year there was a little adjustment to the speed and strength. I am kind of finding my role right now.”
When the season started, Askew found himself on the outside of the lineup looking in.
“Definitely when you find out you aren’t playing, you’re frustrated. It would be a problem if you weren’t. You have to take everything with the positives. It’s tough not playing at the beginning of the year with a couple of healthy scratches here and there. Spiros (Anastas) and Bergy (Steve Bergin) have been great with me. Whether I am in or out of the lineup, they have been showing me video, what I need to do better, what I am doing well,” Askew said. “It’s obviously frustrating when you aren’t playing but you kind of have to find your role. In this league you have to bring it every night or you are not going to be in the lineup. I feel good right now and I’m just going to try to keep that going.”
Anastas likes the upside and raw talent Askew has.
“I think his growth has probably been more substantial than pretty much anyone else on our roster. Mainly due to the fact that he is a young guy and there is a lot of upside and a lot of untapped potential. So we focused in early on teaching him how to do things the right way. It took him awhile to get his first game action,” Anastas said. “For him it probably hasn’t been the easiest path coming in and out (of the lineup). It’s always frustrating but our message was to continue doing things right, knowing that we have a lot of confidence in his game, and knowing that he’s not a guy that when we plug in is just a 10th forward type guy. We want to lean on his skill set and his ability.”
Consistency is key to maintaining a spot in the lineup for the Stingrays. Anastas makes sure his players know it just isn’t the scoresheet that matters. He holds them accountable the full length of the ice and they have to be consistent to be an everyday player for him.
“Early in the season he came in he played, he got his first goal in Orlando. And then it was five or six games before he got his next one. But what kept him in the lineup was doing those things right. Being able to be guy that could be put on the ice for defensive zone starts, put on the ice the last five minutes of each period or the end of the game. And we always knew that once the floodgates opened for him in terms of goals then they would keep coming,” Anastas commented. “After he went on his little streak we started to notice, and it happens to a lot of young players, you start to get a little comfortable, you start getting ahead of yourself for offense. Unfortunately for him, he found himself out of the lineup. But now since he is back in, he’s back to doing things right and producing.”
And Askew has been producing. In 28 games, he has 11 goals and four assists. After starting the season as a third-line/tenth forward, he has found himself on the top line more often than not since mid-December as well as seeing increased time on the power play and the penalty kill. In his four months in Charleston, he has made some memories and looks to make some more as the season progresses.
“My first goal was pretty special. A couple of games I had goals when my grandparents were in the stands. Pack the House night was really cool, we didn’t get the win but it was cool playing in front of that many people. I love Charleston.”
The Stingrays are on the road this weekend, taking on the Kansas City Mavericks in an inter-conference matchup. Faceoff for both contests is set for 8:05 pm ET/7:05 pm CT.