South Carolina goalie Jeff Jakaitis unstrapped his pads Monday morning, carefully stacked them together on the floor in the Stingrays locker room and couldn’t help but smile.
Stingrays at a Glance
Kelly Cup Champions: 1997, 2001, 2009
2012-13 Record: 38-26-8 (84 points)
2013-14 Season Opener: Saturday, Oct. 19 at Reading Royals
2013-14 Home Opener: Saturday, Oct. 26 vs. Greenville
A year ago, as teams around the ECHL opened their training camps, Jakaitis was at home in Minnesota recovering from a season-ending knee surgery and wondering if or where he’d end up playing. When he was finally cleared by doctors, Jakaitis served as Gwinnett’s emergency backup goalie for a couple of games before joining the Stingrays last December after nine-months of grueling rehabilitation.
“Not be able to be in training camp because of my knee was frustrating last year,” said Jakaitis, who went 8-5-4 in 17 games with the Stingrays last season. “Last year, I came in here in December, and that wasn’t easy because the guys had been here a couple of months and had gotten to know each other. I’m definitely glad to be here from the beginning this year and be a part of the process from the start.”
The Stingrays opened training camp for the 2013-14 season Monday morning at the Carolina Ice Palace. The Stingrays’ season opener is set for Oct. 19 against Reading with their home opener on Oct. 26 against Greenville.
After the uncertainly of last season, Jakaitis is just happy to be healthy and back on the ice.
“I’ve had this date circled on the calendar for the last month or so,” Jakaitis said. “I’m excited to be back out there and healthy again. I’ve got a totally different mindset coming into this year. I’m so much more relaxed and focused. I know the city and we’ve got a good group of guys coming back from last year and I can’t wait for the season to start.”
South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery is happy to have Jakaitis with the Stingrays from the beginning of the season. Jakaitis and Ryan Zapolski battled each other for the Stingrays’ No. 1 goaltending spot last year. Zapolski, who finished with a 25-11-2 mark, eventually won out, capturing the ECHL’s rookie of the year, MVP award and goalie of the year honors. Zapolski signed with Lukko Rauma, a team in Finland.
“I think Jeff’s really motivated,” Carbery said. “I think he feels like he’s got something to prove. He played really well last year, but he wasn’t ‘the guy’ because Ryan had such a phenomenal season. Jeff is a competitor and he really wants to be on the ice.”
The Stingrays opened training camp with nearly 30 players this season, a half-dozen more than they began the season with a year ago.
“The pace was very fast,” said Stingrays captain Kevin Quick. “Nothing against the guys we had last year, but I feel like we’re 10 times better this year. The guys that Spencer has brought in this season are really good players. There are a lot of bodies on the ice and a lot of healthy competition out there, which is what you want.”
Rays add players
The Stingrays added several players to their training camp roster on Monday, including four players from the Providence Bruins, their American Hockey League affiliate.
Forwards Scott Campbell and Jack Downing, defenseman Steve Spinell and goaltender Adam Morrison were sent from Providence.
South Carolina also added defenseman Ryan Grimshaw and forward Wayne Simpson.
The Stingrays are expected to add forward Jordan Owens, who has more than 300 games at the AHL level, later this week.
The Stingrays will hold an intrasquad scrimmage at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Carolina Ice Palace in North Charleston. The Stingrays will also scrimmage at 11 a.m. Wednesday.