NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The South Carolina Stingrays opened their training camp on Friday with a heavy contingent of new faces on the ice. The Stingrays opened their camp with 18 players. Six of those players have suited up for the Stingrays previously, but only three of them were regular fixtures in the lineup. With the ECHL, AHL and European leagues fully operating again, there has been a heavy demand for talent. The Stingrays and their head coach, Ryan Blair, have solidified a core group of players to anchor the roster but some pieces still need to fall into place before opening night.
The defense seems to have been the focus of this offseason. Macoy Erkamps, on loan from the Hershey Bears, and Connor Moore are the only returnees to start camp on the blue line. Tariq Hammond was signed in the offseason but received a PTO from the Henderson Silver Knights just prior to training camp. However, the Stingrays signed three NHL draft picks in the off-season. Chaz Reddekop and Patrick Holway are starting their seasons off in Charleston, while Jake Massie turned his PTO with Hershey into an AHL deal. Massie made the opening night roster in Hershey, and may not join the Stingrays for a few weeks.
Additionally, the Stingrays signed Victor Hadfield this offseason. The 21-year-old blueliner spent last year with the Manitoba Moose on an ATO since the OHL did not have a season. He played in four games for the Moose last year and looks hungry to start a professional career. Hadfield will be looking to make his own mark in the hockey world and match the success of his grandfather, Vic Hadfield, who logged over 1,000 NHL games with the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The defenseman to watch in the early season is Jordan Subban. The former AHL All-Star did not play last year and should play a huge part in the defense as he looks to get his game back to a higher level of play. The offensively minded defender could play a large roll on the power play while he is in Charleston.
“I think we are in a pretty good spot on the back end. I like who we have there quite a bit. It’s a good mixture of size and guys that are able to play different roles. I think things are really shaping up well on the D side,” Said Blair. “(Subban) has proved that he can do it at the next level. He took a year off last year for different reasons and we are excited to have him down here. Our plan is to try and get him back up to Hershey as quickly as possible. He’s a guy that is really solid on the offensive side of the puck and getting his confidence back and back up to speed while he is down here. We are really excited to have him.”
The long-term goaltending situation seems to be set with a tandem of Ryan Bednard and Hunter Shepard. However, rookie Cedrick Andree earned a look at Hershey’s camp and impressed Blair. Since Shepard may remain in Hershey for a week or two to start the season, Andree could easily start the season with the Stingrays or become a dependable call up option as the season progresses.
“Andree is a guy that spent a good chunk of the year in the (AHL) and didn’t get into too many games but he’s a real competitor. He’s an undersized goalie but he competes extremely hard.” Blair continued, “And Bednard, we’ve seen him over the past couple of years with him being in Greenville and I think he’s a guy that could be a real proven backstop for us and we’re excited that he’s down with us right away.”
The forward corps is not as top-end talented as last year’s group, but it is a more diverse group with players able to cover a wider range of roles. The Stingrays have brought in veteran Ben Holmstrom to add to the leadership group anchored by Andrew Cherniwchan and Justin Florek. The three veterans will form a solid base for the forward corps through their proven scoring and leadership on and off of the ice. Ryan Dmowski was expected to be a key player in the forward group. However, he has made the Hershey opening night roster and it may be some time before he sees any action in South Carolina.
Yannick Turcotte will play an important role in keeping opponents accountable on the ice. The fifth-year pro was sidelined by injury last year after two games with the Stingrays. In his previous three seasons he has surpassed 150 PIMs each year in limited action. The balance of the forward corps, including returnee Jade Miller, is a mix of young players looking to make their mark in the league and prove that they can become reliable assets. Lawton Courtnall and Conor Landrigan are two players that have caught Coach Blair’s interest prior to the start of camp.
“(Landrigan) is a really good college player at the Division III level, excited to see what he can do here. He’s supposed to be a highly skilled player when given the opportunity, I think right now, based off of where we are at, we should be able to give him an opportunity to play and see what he can do. Hopefully that opportunity gives him some confidence to get off on the right foot, said Blair. “Just watching over the last few days down here, Lawton Courtnall, he’s looked good and early on might be given an opportunity to have a bigger role with us. Those are a couple of guys that will help round out Holmstrom, Florek and Cherniwchan. It’s going to be a work in progress for the forward group.”
The Stingrays are still looking at several players that remain unsigned as AHL clubs make their final decisions. The team is not expecting any further additions from the Capitals or Bears for another week or longer, as a few players remain injured and final long term roster decisions are still being made. The Stingrays still have one veteran spot available should the right player become available but the team is looking for the best players available regardless of their status.
“You never really know what you are going to have or what might be coming down or going up. We just have to be prepared and put ourselves in the best spot.” Blair continued, “Outside the organization there’s like five or six forwards and a couple of defensemen that are still on PTOs that I’ve had conversations with them and their agents. Just waiting to see where those chips fall.”
With no preseason games this year, fans of the South Carolina Stingrays will get their first look at the team on opening night, next Saturday night, as they host the Greenville Swamp Rabbits at the North Charleston Coliseum at 6:05 pm.
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