NORTH CHARLESTON, SC – The first month of the South Carolina Stingrays season is in the books and they are off to one of their best starts in recent memory. Posting a 7-2-2-0 record has put them in a solid position heading into their last home game of November this Saturday against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.
One of the catalysts for the hot start is Stingrays left winger Nick Johnson who has spent the previous seven seasons in Europe to discuss his movement back to North America to play in the ECHL and his take on the season so far.
The Stingrays have gone 0-1-2 over their last three games of a grueling seven games in 14-day stretch. However, Nick doesn’t think that there is a reason for concern at this point in the season.
“There’s definitely a refocus. The start to the year, we won a lot of tight games. We won and that’s awesome. Good teams know how to win but, one puck bounce the other way, they could have won. So I think we were riding a little too high. thinking we might have been a little better than we are. And that happens in hockey,” Johnson said.
The tempo has slowed down this week and the Stingrays have had time to practice and work on different aspects of their game.
“We’re getting on the ice and practicing and there’s definitely a refocused feel. We’ve been talking in the locker room saying there’s definitely things we got to work on and it’s nice to have some practices out there and working on them,” he said. “We’re excited to end this little slump and get back on the winning track. Our ceiling, I don’t even think we’ve come near (it). We have a lot to work on but it’s exciting to see how good we can be.”
Johnson has been paired with Joe Devin and Patrick Gaul for a majority of this season. He feels comfortable with them as linemates and looks for his success to continue with them.
“We’re all pretty similar players. We don’t try to do too much (by ourselves). We kind of know what each other is going to be doing out there on the ice. So far it’s been clicking. Our focus is on keeping it going. We have to try to focus defensively but we got to try to put the puck in the net,” Johnson explained.
As Johnson has gotten more comfortable on the ice with the Stingrays his point production has risen dramatically. Since opening weekend he has scored five goals and is a team-leading +5. Adjusting to playing in North America for the first time since his college days hasn’t taken the veteran winger long.
“The size (of the ice sheets) definitely changes the way you play the game and the way you prepare and the systems you go into. That’s the biggest glaring difference. On the smaller ice you are kinda running into each other more than the European, but hockey is hockey.”
When asked about stylistic differences between European and North American hockey Johnson talked about how the ice sheets indirectly influence the nuances of the styles.
“With the bigger sheet over there they value skill. Because there’s so much ice, so much room to work with. It’s no secret North America values the physicality and that part of the game and over there they tend to value skill and the main reason is the ice sheet.”
Nick has ties to Charleston and the Lowcountry that played deciding factors in his decision to sign with the Stingrays. His brothers Gregg Johnson (09-10) and Keith Johnson (08-10) played together in Charleston with Keith capturing the Kelly Cup in 2009 with the Rays. Also factoring in his decision was Head Coach Ryan Warsofsky, whom he skated alongside for 3 years at Sacred Heart University.
“I love it. It’s an awesome city. I’ve frequented here before. my parents had a place in Myrtle Beach. We used to come here a lot growing up. I’ve always loved it. It’s always been in the back of my mind, if I come back and play (in North America) that’s going to be a spot I want to play.”
For the first time since Christmas 2009, Nick is going to be stateside for the holidays.
“My Mother is happy, that’s for sure.”
While he will miss the Christmas markets in Nuremberg and other traditions such as gluhwein, which is a mulled wine popular in Europe during the winter, he is looking forward to Christmas in Charleston.
“The Sun’s out! Every day there is a chance to be 75 (degrees). I haven’t had winters like that ever in my life. So that’s a nice change of pace.”
After Saturday night’s contest, the Stingrays will embark on a four-game road trip to close out the month.