SUMMERVILLE, SC –
‘Twas the night before hockey when all through the rink
The Zamboni was idling, edging forward with a creak
The skates were sharpened and sticks taped with care
In the hopes that opening night would soon be there
If you don’t remember that classic from your childhood, I feel bad for you.
The Lowcountry is ready to open its 25th season of Stingrays hockey, and the organization has announced its season-opening roster. The roster contains 25 players, two of which are on Injured Reserve. The breakdown is two goalies, eight defensemen and 15 forwards.
Jeff Jakaitis and Carmine Guerriero
On the Blueline:
Frankie Simonelli, Danny Federico, Paul Geiger, Travis Walsh, Marcus Perrier, Joey Leach, Tommy Hughes and Mike Krieg (IR)
Taylor Cammarata, Johnny McInnis, Kelly Zajac, Patrick Gaul, Stephen Collins, Nick Roberto, Dylan Margonari, Robbie Baillargeon, Nick Johnson, Tim McGauley, Andrew Cherniwchan, Steven Whitney, Trevor Gillies, Joe Devin and Pat Megannety (IR)
Thirteen players return from previous campaigns. The experience should help early cohesion on the ice as the core of the players are well versed in the systems that Coach Ryan Warsofsky and Assistant Coach Steve Bergin use.
Stingrays fans will have confidence rolling into the season that the defense and penalty kill units will retain their perennial top of the league status. On the defensive side, Geiger and Hughes (on loan from the Hershey Bears) have multiple years of AHL experience and will compliment returnees, Perrier, Leach, Simonelli, and Federico. There are no rookies on the blue line this year as both Kreig and Walsh are entering their second pro years. The Stingrays are fielding is one of the deepest and most experienced D corps in the past ten years.
The forwards are a great mixed bag of players containing everything from young, raw talent to tested and proven veterans. Rookies Cammarata, Collins, Baillargeon and Roberto are full of energy but are going to have a tough time becoming mainstays on the ice. Margonari seems to be fully recovered from his near career-ending injury last year, and McGauley appears to have considerably upped his game in training camp after not making the playoff roster for last year’s finals run. Proven scorers like Devin, Zajac, Cherniwchan, Johnson, and Whitney will not easily be pushed out of top six roles. The third line will most likely be anchored by Gaul and Gillies again with McInnis being a likely fit as well. The lines in practice have been relatively consistent over the past few days, but fans can expect some tinkering over the first month or two.
The goalie situation is nothing as predicted a month ago. Parker Milner and Adam Carlson have had to remain in Hershey as both of their goalies are out with injuries. That has opened the door for fan favorite and three-time ECHL Goalie of the Year Jakaitis to return after two years in Norway. Guerriero is coming out of the University of Huntsville-Alabama and will have a little time to learn the game under the mentorship of one of the best in the league.
There are going to be several questions for the Stingrays to answer heading into the season.
The offensive scoring from Rob Flick, Steve McParland, Domenic Monardo, John Parker and Olivier Archambault is gone. The Rays brought in Johnson and Whitney to help patch that hole and will look for Margonari and McGauley to elevate their game after posting solid numbers on mainly third line minutes last year. There will also be the opportunity for a rookie forward to have a breakout season and become the new local folk hero.
While Jakaitis is a proven elite ECHL goalie, Guerriero is untested in the pro ranks. When the Bears’ goalies get healthy, it could create an uncomfortable situation between the affiliates as Milner and Carlson will eventually need homes.
Three conference finals in three years with two finals appearances. Does that lead to the drive to get over the hump and clinch a fourth Kelly Cup? Or does familiarity breed contempt? Will there be a let off during the season as players have a hard time getting motivated for regular season contests? Will the young rookies stoke the competitive fire of the older guys and keep things fresh and competition for ice time high? There is a deep core of vocal leadership in this group that should be able to keep the ship pointed in the right direction.
The regular season is upon us, and in 72 short games, all questions will be answered.
See you at the rink.