NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The South Carolina Stingrays will raise a banner on opening night. But not the banner they wanted. While an Eastern Conference Championship banner is worthy of celebration, it is a reminder of unfinished organizational goals. The Stingrays will look to put last season’s bitter Kelly Cup Finals loss in the rearview mirror and gear up for another season. A season that results in another long playoff run, this time with a slightly different ending. To do that, the Stingrays will have to adjust their game. Less than a third of the team is comprised of returnees from last year. The high-end skill players that comprised the forward group last year have mostly gone into retirement or went to play in Europe. The Stingrays are going to have to play a more disciplined and blue-collar style of play this year if they want to raise a different banner in the rafters of the North Charleston Coliseum next year.
Last Season in Review
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost Kelly Cup Finals to Fort Wayne (3 games to 1)
Record: 34-23-13, 81 points
Division Finish: 4th, South
Overall ECHL Finish: 7th
Leading Scorer: Cole Ully, 60pts in 55 games (24G,36A)
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.09 (4th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.03 (9th)
Power Play (Rank): 17.1% (6th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 83.9% (6th)
- Ben Holmstrom is a proven leader who isn’t afraid to get physical and can put up points as well. He captained two different AHL teams and wore either a “C” or “A” eight of his nine full AHL seasons. His experience and professionalism should provide the younger players a model to base their game on as they look to make their move to the next level of play.
- Ryan Dmowski is a big, heavy forward that looks to be a key fixture for the Stingrays’ forward corps. He impressed the staff in Hershey so much, that they decided to keep him on board to start their season. While not logging any regular-season games, the taste of being back in the AHL should have him motivated heading into opening night.
- Chaz Reddekopp is a big and physical defenseman. The 6-foot-3 blueliner was the 2015 7th round NHL draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings. He is entering his fourth professional year and will be looking to play his way back into the AHL on a full-time basis.
- The forward corps. Most ECHL teams would be happy to have two out of their top five scorers returning. However, the issue for the Stingrays is only three of the top 16 forwards are back. Cole Ully, Dan DeSalvo, Matt Weis, Max Novak, Brett Supinski, Mark Cooper, Dylan Steman, Cameron Askew, Caleb Herbert, Tim Harrison, and others are gone.
- Zach Malatesta proved to be an exceptional pick-up for the Stingrays last year. He provided toughness and was the Stingrays’ leading scorer from the blue line. The Stingrays were not able to protect his rights as they belonged to Atlanta who opted out last year.
2021-22 Schedule Breakdown
With the league fully operating again, the Stingrays will have more variation in their opponents than last year. They will see 11 different opponents, including eight different teams at home. Greenville and Jacksonville will be the most common opponents but fans will get to see league newcomers Trois-Rivières in March. The team will make a far west road trip to see Idaho in December and a New England jaunt in March to see Worcester and Maine.
There is one odd schedule concern, from December 18th to February 12th, a span that covers nine home games. The Stingrays will only play Norfolk and Jacksonville during that time span which could cause some fan fatigue from seeing the same opponents repeatedly. The Stingrays are set to end their regular season on a high note as they play 14 games in March, including a home finale series against the perennial arch enemy Florida Everblades. This should provide them with an opportunity to establish and maintain momentum for the playoffs.
Top Story Lines for 2021-22
- Can the forward corps provide enough offense to propel the team to success? The team seems happy with who they have in the locker room. Can the Stingrays find enough offense from capable, but unproven scoring forwards, such as Jade Miller, Lawton Courtnall, and Conor Landrigan? Can veterans Andrew Cherniwchan and Justin Florek continue their point production and anchor the scoring for the team? Is there another diamond in the rough waiting to emerge as a top-scoring threat?
- Can the defense return to a shutdown style of play and keep the pressure off of the netminders? Last year was an oddity, most teams were stacked offensively due to COVID shutdowns. As a result, the Stingrays, a team known for defensive play, struggled at times to protect their own end. Even with bigger, more experienced players on the roster, the Stingrays had to rely on their offense repeatedly to get them back into games. The Stingrays addressed that need in the offseason with the addition of several top-end free agents and the return of Tariq Hammond and Connor Moore. How the defense plays early in the season should be a fair indicator of how the team will fair long term.
- How much impact will the Hershey/Capitals contracted players have? Hunter Shepard and Ryan Bednard will man the crease in what appears to be another top-shelf tandem in the ECHL. Macoy Erkamps, Jordan Subban, and Jake Massie are all defensemen that can play at the next level. Subban looked very impressive in camp with his passing and shooting. How long will the former AHL All-Star be in Charleston? Forward Yannick Turcotte is known as a tough character on the ice. Turcotte works hard during practice and, for a forward known for dropping the gloves, is deceptively fast. If he can find consistency in his scoring, he may find himself in Hershey sooner rather than later. And who else might find their way to Charleston this year? There are several injuries in the organization that have held players at higher levels. If the Bears and Capitals get healthy, it is likely that another two or three players could come to South Carolina.
Prediction Sure To Go Right
With the revamped defense, the Stingrays return to a grind-them-down style of game. This is a more physical team than the past several versions of the Stingrays. Look for them to use their size and toughness to win. The vast majority of the games this year will be one-goal contests where the Stingrays jump out to an early lead and then physically outplay the opponents to seal the victory.
Prediction Sure To Go Wrong
A rookie/2nd-year pro will have a blowout year and lead the team in scoring. The opportunities are there. All one of the young players has to do is seize the opportunity and run with it. My outside-the-box choice to do it is Nate Pionk. Makes for the perfect story; overlooked coming out of an NCAA Division III school, in the shadow of a famous sibling, signs in the SPHL, comes to camp on a PTO and by spring is the leading scorer on a playoff-bound team.
How do you think the Stingrays will do this season? Will they miss the playoffs in shocking fashion, cruise their way to an early playoff exit or maybe storm their way to a Kelly Cup? Let us know below!
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