NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – After an exciting run to the Kelly Cup finals, the South Carolina Stingrays have been busy preparing for the upcoming season. The Stingrays have been building their roster steadily through the offseason but pieces still need to be added to complete the picture for the 2021-22 season. The Stingrays have one goalie, five defensemen and six forwards under contract so far. Several players are expected to be assigned to South Carolina from the Hershey Bears and Washington Capitals. However, those players are still fighting for jobs in those organizations and who eventually comes down to Charleston may not be decided on for several weeks to come.
As camps start to get underway in the NHL, uncontracted players will start feeling the pressure to lock in a deal for the upcoming season. This can present opportunities for coaches to make deals and lock in players for their rosters. The Washington Capitals did not participate in a tournament this year, electing to hold a three day camp for rookies, draft picks and free agents. Their 20-man roster included former Stingrays goalie Hunter Shepard as well as three currently contracted defensemen (Patrick Holway, Jake Massie and Chaz Reddekopp). This past weekend Stingrays head coach Ryan Blair went down to Tampa Bay to watch a rookie tournament with players from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators.
“There’s a few camp invites that could trickle down to the ECHL. Just a chance to connect and meet some new people. And it’s a good chance to watch some hockey,” said Coach Blair.
And while the rookie tournament in Tampa may, or may not, lead to new players for the Stingrays, Blair is still actively looking for more players for his team.
“Honestly, it’s just about finding the best possible players that fit best into the organization whether it’s a vet or a rookie. There’s definitely players out there and I’ve been working as hard as I can this summer to stay in touch with agents and players and coaches around the league and different leagues to get on some guys early and stay on them,” Blair said. “There’s a good amount of players that will be going to American league camps on PTOs. So it’s an opportunity to try and land some guys that will have a major impact on your team if they should fall through the cracks.”
Of the 12 players currently signed by the Stingrays, only five played for the Stingrays last year and two of those didn’t crack the lineup during the playoffs. This will be a season of change for the Stingrays. Back in Charleston for the upcoming season are veteran forwards Andrew Cherniwchan and Justin Florek. They provided leadership and stability on the third line while putting up the third and fifth-most points on the team. They will be re-joined up front by Jade Miller. Tariq Hammond will be back on the blue line with his shut down style of play. Conner Moore will be back for his second year on defense. Blair explained that the absence of many returning players is more about how the recruiting landscape is in the ECHL this year and many players deciding to move on from hockey.
“It’s more about how it’s shaping up this year but I think it will provide a really good opportunity for me to getting another crack at building a foundation, holding guys to a higher standard, and higher expectations throughout the course of the year. I’d like to have some guys back that are unfortunately going to Europe or just retiring. But I think it’s a good position to be in to bring in new faces and implement new things and just be better myself moving forward.”
The three newcomers to the defensive corps, Holway, Massie and Reddekopp, were all 2015 NHL draft picks. While things may have not panned out for them with their original clubs, the Capitals think highly enough of them to bring them in to their Rookie Camp to measure them against their top prospects.
“I think they earned the look. It’s something that shows how strong our affiliation with Washington and Hershey is. These guys will get an opportunity to start there and be evaluated and see how they stack up against other prospects in the system. Then they will trickle down to Hershey most probably and then they are ultimately on contract with us to start but anything can happen at either of those camps that can change those plans.”
Up front Lawton Courtnall, cousin of former Stingray Justin Courtnall, joins the team after his rights were acquired from the Wheeling Nailers to complete the trade that sent Jesse Lees to Wheeling last year. Ryan Dmowski was added to the forward corps after spending the past two seasons under contract with the Hartford Wolfpack. The biggest pick up for the Stingrays may be veteran Ben Holmstrom. Holmstrom has captained two different AHL teams and has a physical edge to his game.
“I’ve got a really good relationship with Ben. He’s a guy that Captained UMass-Lowell for three years and I played for three years with him. He’s an outstanding leader and just a great person all around. It was a great opportunity to bring him back from Norway where he was last year and bring him to Charleston…it was just an opportunity through the connection that we had to bring him in and he’ll be part of our leadership group,” said Blair.
Who comes down from the AHL may take awhile to get sorted. Scott Allen has stepped up from being an assistant in Hershey to replace Spencer Carbery as the head coach. Allen and Blair have talked over the summer but the players need to compete for spots in camp before anything happens in terms of movement to South Carolina. Every player that Hershey has signed has a legitimate shot at making their opening night roster so battles for spots will be tight at that camp. Other factors impacting player assignments will include injuries, trades by either the Capitals or Bears and what level of depth Allen wants in the rafters in Hershey versus down on the ice in Charleston.
“I’ve had a chance to chat with him a couple of times. I don’t want to bombard him too much as he’s settling into a new role. But I am excited about the opportunity to continue to work with him and be in constant communication with him. He’s been a great resource for me as the assistant coach in Hershey and I am sure he will continue to be a great resource and mentor for me. He’s got a wealth of knowledge and experience.” Blair continued, “We haven’t had too many in depth conversations about names or numbers of players coming down. It’s just a matter of how their camp shakes out and who trickles down from Washington and injuries and waivers and all that kind of stuff comes into play. So it’s just been kind of broad in terms of who and how many it will be. But we are trusting of the relationship. The affiliation is unbelievable from Washington to Hershey down to us. We’re confident in the players that are up there and whoever they send down to us, we’re excited about getting the opportunity to work with them.”
Look for some PTO players to join the Stingrays prior to their camp. However, Coach Blair believes that the Stingrays camp will start with a large group of players that will be in Charleston for the season. The faces that come down from the Hershey camp could include several former Stingrays as well as a few new faces. Players that I feel that are on the Hershey bubble include forwards Yannick Turcotte and Mason Morelli. Also included with the forwards could be Will Graber, who is making the move from defense to forward this year and may get some ECHL time to solidify his skills at his new position.
On defense, Macoy Erkamps could see time in Charleston as well as former AHL all-star Jordan Subban, who did not play professionally last year and may need some time to get back up to game speed. Shepard and Ryan Bednard seem to be the likely tandem destined for South Carolina but both are quality goalies that are expected to get looks with Hershey this year.
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