NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The South Carolina Stingrays have opened their season with a 4-1 record. This weekend they will face two new opponents in the Atlanta Gladiators and the Orlando Solar Bears. Gaining and sustaining that momentum is important early in a season. Head Coach Ryan Blair is happy, but not entirely satisfied, with his team’s start.
“It’s a good start, and a step in the right direction and a really good building block for our group to look back on those first five games. Obviously a lot of room for improvement but it’s nice to look back on it and see where we are at and use it as a stepping stone to move forward,” said Blair. “In each of the games a different times we’ve seen a really high level of compete from our group. It can be a bit more consistent. Our second periods have not been very good over the five game stretch, but overall, I think our urgency and compete has been there. We’ve talked about it since day one, that that’s our most important thing and our commitment to working hard and being accountable and detailed and being a resilient group is after that. Hard work has to come first and I’ve been proud of the group so far.”
Coach Blair went on to talk about his areas of focus and improvement moving forward into the season.
“Our D zone coverage and overall puck management is a huge focus. There’s two different teams out there when we manage the puck and work hard in our D zone compared to when we are not. I think that’s where we’ve run into some trouble this year, especially in those second periods. The long change, guys getting stuck out there, our ability to defend is that much harder when you are tired and you have to back check 200 feet. So our puck management and D zone has been a big talking point over our first five games.”
The line of Andrew Cherniwchan, Justin Florek, and Jade Miller has been producing at a high level so far, and they have become the top three point-producing forwards on the team so far.
“We’ve got some balance throughout our lineup right now and got some guys playing some different roles. But it’s our expectation for all of our guys to find ways to contribute and those guys (Cherniwchan, Florek and Miller) have been rewarded quite a bit in the first five games. We’re trying to have balance in our lineup and have all of our forwards and D playing the right way.”
In the first five games, the team has had to place six different players into COVID protocols and has seen three players called up to Hershey as the Bears and Washington Capitals have been dealing with injury issues. This has caused changes to the lineup and additional players to be brought on to the team.
“It’s a different make up of our team this year and when guys go down it’s that next man up mentality,” said Blair. “When you bring in new players, you try to get them on the same page and I think it’s a testament to our leaders. Those guys have a bunch more time with the players at the rink, away from the rink. They get a lot of interaction that coaches don’t necessarily get. I think our leadership group has done a really good job so far in talking to guys and making sure guys are pulling the right rope and are here for the right reasons. The next man up mentality is huge for us right now.”
The Stingrays will be facing two new opponents during this weekend’s three-games-in-three-days schedule. Coach Blair is preparing the team to face new opponents but, most importantly, has his squad inwardly focused heading into the weekend.
“We’re still really concerned with the opponent and their tendencies but I think at the end of the day you have to focus more on yourself and things you can do and how you can play the right way to get the results that you are looking for. We still have to pre-scout and find what we can do in our game to match and exceed what they might do.” Blair continued, “There’s still a lot of pre-scout that goes into it but, again, it’s more about us and it’s always like that. No matter what point of the year it’s about figuring out the opponent and making your group aware but letting them play and focusing on our structure.”
With the roster fluctuations and uncertainty in who will be available for the upcoming weekend, Blair is relying on players to step into expanded roles. Players who started training camp on PTOs and recent additions to the team may have opportunities to make their case for more significant roles and longer tenures with the team.
“It just goes back to that next man up mentality. You might be the number 8 D or 12-13 forward one day and the next day you are in the lineup and you are playing big minutes in a big role. (Nate) Pionk, (Dominick) Sacco and Carter Allen have been really sound for us and all great guys, willing to learn,” Blair said. “That’s the important thing, guys are here and they’re willing to do what it takes. We’ll see how things go with forwards, D and goalies and see who’s playing well and who’s earning their next shift and their next game.”
The South Carolina Stingrays will start the weekend by hosting the Atlanta Gladiators on Friday night before finishing the weekend with a pair against the Orlando Solar Bears. This weekend’s game will be at the North Charleston Coliseum.
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