NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Stingrays are looking forward to the 2019-20 season, and there seems to be optimism from the organization after coming off of a season where things rarely seemed to properly fall in place. Fresh off a coaching change that was a bit of a surprise, the Stingrays have had a busy first part of summer and look to maintain forward progress towards the fall.
Steve Bergin has been starting to put pieces in place for his debut as the head coach in October. After three years as an assistant under Ryan Warsofsky and Spiros Anastas, Bergin will take the reins and try to put his stamp on the Stingrays. He prefers a heavier, more physical game that has brought the organization much success over the years and that fans in Charleston enjoy and are accustomed to seeing. Dipping into his and the organization’s strong Boston area roots, Ryan Blair has been brought in as his assistant. Blair played NCAA hockey at UMass-Lowell alongside former Stingrays Scott Campbell and Derek Arnold. He then played two full seasons in the ECHL before retiring shortly into his third campaign. He has been coaching in the Junior US Tier III ranks and served as the Director of Hockey Operations for UMass-Lowell.
The Stingrays have issued qualifying offers to seven players for the 2019-2020 season. Forwards Jonathan Charbonneau, Tad Kozun and Patrick Megannety along with defensemen Tim Davison, Ryker Killins, Steve Johnson, and Kevin McKernan. All in all, this is a good group to bring back potentially. Megannety has fought injuries the past two years but is a known leader in the locker room. Charbonneau and Kozun both had 50-point seasons, and the team hopes they will return and continue their high point production in their sophomore campaigns. Killins performed well after joining the team after completing his senior year at Ferris State. Johnson had a breakout rookie season with the Reading Royals which lead to a call up to the Hershey Bears. He was acquired by the Stingrays and was consistently on the top defensive pairing in Charleston. With Captain Joey Leach spending most of the season in Hershey and no other veteran defensive mentors on the team, rookies McKernan and Davison spent most of the season as the Stingrays top defensive unit. They performed very well under the circumstances and could play an important role in the upcoming year.
The Stingrays have signed three players so far, defenseman Cameron Heath and forwards Cameron Askew and Max Novak. Heath plays a solid shutdown game and performed well in his 15 games with the Rays at the end of the season. He should prove to be an exciting player to watch during his first full professional year. Askew was the youngest player on the team last year, and at times early in the season, it showed. However, when he got rolling, he was a force to be reckoned with on the ice. His 17 goals were a result of him going to the net and capitalizing on chances. He could potentially have a breakout year and earn himself a look in the AHL. Novak returns to North America after spending last year in Sweden. Previously he played two years in the AHL with the Albany Devils and a season in Orlando with the Solar Bears. He is a proven scorer in the ECHL with 21 goals and 57 points in his 66 games in Orlando.
Help from the affiliated Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears was scarce last year except in the crease. This year it seems likely that Parker Milner and Logan Thompson will be ticketed for Charleston. Milner is well known and liked by the local fan base. He will most likely be returning for his fourth season in the Lowcountry. Thompson played for the Adirondack Thunder and Binghamton Devils at the end of his year with Brock University and impressed the Bears’ coaching staff enough to earn an AHL deal with them for the 2019-20 season.
It is difficult to predict what other help may come down through the affiliation this year. Last year, it the thought was that 2-3 defensemen and 3-4 forwards would start the year in Charleston with the Stingrays. However, the Bears were a very young team, and the coaching staff thought that more competition for ice time would increase the competitiveness of the players and enhance the team. After a rocky start, the Bears were fantastic down the stretch and made the playoffs after many had written them off. But by the time the team got settled and healthy, they lost several players who either invoked contract clauses to return to Europe to play or asked for a release from their NHL and AHL deals to leave the organization. Once the defections happened, there were not any healthy players available for assignment to South Carolina and several Stingrays ended up going up to Hershey at the end of the season.
Fans in the Lowcountry are hoping for different results this year. Two players to keep an eye on are veterans Kale Kessy and Chris McCarthy. Kessy is a hard nose enforcer that also puts up points. In 122 ECHL games, he has 600 PIMs and 88 points (and an additional 386 PIMs in 175 AHL contests). McCarthy is more of a finesse player putting up 219 points in 244 ECHL games. He was issued a qualifying offer by Reading, and if the Stingrays wish to have his services for the upcoming year, they will have to trade for his rights.
Notable players not given qualifying offers include veterans Joey Leach, Andrew Cherniwchan and Josh Gratton. Additionally, Tim Harrison and Stephane Legault were not qualified. Some of these players may have indicated to the Stingrays that they were retiring or they already signed contracts that have yet to be announced. All were key players and contributed significantly last year. The addition of any of these players to the roster will be a win for the Stingrays.
As the NHL free agency market clears up look for more players signing AHL contracts and ultimately ECHL contracts. As these signings occur and we slowly approach the opening of NHL training camps, the picture of the 2019-20 Stingrays will start to come into focus slowly. Until then, it will be a summer of speculation, anticipation, and watching the transaction wires.