NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The South Carolina Stingrays got off to a less than ideal start by dropping their first two contests of the season. But then something changed. They quickly pieced together a three-game win streak against Orlando, Greenville, and Atlanta and are 3-2, sitting atop the South Division as they enter a three-game set against the Norfolk Admirals this week. Head coach Spiros Anastas was gracious enough to spend some time discussing the upcoming road trip as well as his thoughts on the season so far with The Sin Bin.
The Stingrays will be facing the Admirals in Norfolk for the start of their second road trip of the season and look to extend their win streak. After dropping the first two games of the season by a combined score of 6-9, the Stingrays added an offensive burst and outscored opponents 15-9 the last three outings. The high goal output is something different for the Stingrays as their team identity over the past several seasons has been built around a blue-collar defense resulting in low scoring affairs. Uncharacteristically, the Stingrays have given up four or more goals in four of their five games.
“Five of our eight D are rookies, so naturally it takes some time for them to adjust to the pro game and the systems we teach,” said Anastas. “We think there were some early growing pains, but we have a lot of confidence in that group, especially when you have two guys like (Joey) Leach and (Marcus) Perrier mentoring them. We will continue to focus on closing quicker and boxing out hard in the D-Zone. If we tighten that up, we’ll be a tough team to play against.”
Norfolk seems to be a tougher and more skilled team than in years past and the Stingrays are preparing for a solid match up against the Admirals. Expectations from the coach, however, remain high.
“Our goal is always to win, so obviously we’re going in with the mentality of winning three but can only do that one game at a time. We focus heavily on process and out-chancing our opponent.” Anastas reflected, “In fact, showing our guys that we accomplished that in our first two games was helpful in showing them we weren’t too far off from the results we all want. So coming into this week the message is the same. We expect that everyone shows up on time for each game and we sustain great process for 60 mins. We believe we got closer to that this past weekend, so we need to keep growing and building on it over the next three games.”
If there seems to be an early turning point for the Stingrays it can be traced back to the first game against the Orlando Solar Bears where the Stingrays would suffer their second loss of the season. After two periods, they found themselves down 4-1. Eventually going down 5-1, the Stingrays mounted a spirited comeback and rang two off the iron in the closing minutes before falling 5-4. The energy from the Stingrays was readily apparent on the ice the last period and has mainly stayed in place since that game.
“We thought we came up a little short the previous (game against Jacksonville),“ said Anastas. “We believed it was a game we should have won. Then we come out and in spite of out-chancing and out-shooting our opponent in the first 40 mins, we find ourselves down 4-1. There was definitely some frustration mounting. The message before the third was simply win or lose, we had 20 minutes to show ourselves what kind of team we were going to be this year. We could either collapse or fight and claw back into the game to send a message for the following night. We went down 5-1 early in the third and that’s where you could really hear that the players bought into what we talked about during the intermission. It charged them up even more and we dominated the rest of the game. In spite of the loss, I walked out of the building happy with the group that we had.”
The first year head coach has been busy but has also found some time to enjoy some of the moments early in the season.
“While getting my first win as the Stingrays Head Coach was special, I’d have to say my favorite moment so far winning our home opener in front of our awesome fans.To make it more precise, right when Cherny (Andrew Cherniwchan) slid that open netter in to seal the deal. The building erupted and I could just feel the energy and passion that our supporters have for us.
The Stingrays are going to be on a long journey before they play again in the North Charleston Coliseum. After the three games in Norfolk, they play twice in Allen and once more in Jacksonville before having a home game. This road test will be a good measuring stick for the Stingrays. They will be playing three hungry teams vying for position in tough divisions. If the defense tightens up and the high scoring forwards like Grant Besse, Jake Kamrass and Jonathan Charbonneau keep producing, there is a high probability the Stingrays come home with four or more wins. They have proven that they can be an explosive and fun team to watch. Continuing to win and accumulate points is key at this point in the season. Anything can happen on the road but the Stingrays are well positioned to overcome whatever obstacles are placed in their way.