South Carolina Stingrays at Reading Royals
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Sovereign Center (7,083), Reading, Penn.
2012-13 Records: Royals 46-19-7 (99 points); Stingrays 38-26-8 (84 points)
The Reading Royals will have plenty of distractions Saturday night against the South Carolina Stingrays.
It’s opening night, which always packs plenty of emotion, but there’s the added diversion of the Royals celebrating their 2013 Kelly Cup championship.
The Royals, the reigning ECHL champions, will hoist their banners before Saturday night’s game with the Stingrays and give their fans and returning players one more chance to celebrate the franchise’s first league title.
The Stingrays will open their 21st season of hockey Saturday night against Reading beginning at 7:35 p.m. at Sovereign Center in Reading, Pa. The Stingrays’ home opener will be Oct. 26 at the North Charleston Coliseum against the Greenville Road Warriors.
The Royals ceremony will take about 15 extra minutes and the Stingrays, winners of three Kelly Cup titles of their own, will have to wait patiently through the opening night pageantry.
“We’ll be on the ice for a while waiting for the game to start,” said Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery. “We’ve talked about it a little bit. We’ll get warmed up and then have to be on the ice waiting for them to hoist the banner and give out their rings. To be honest, I think it’ll be a motivation for us. They’ve got what we want.”
While there’s plenty of turnover for most ECHL teams, the Royals have a solid nucleus of returning players back from their championship team. Yannick Tifu, Bryant Molle, T.J. Syner, Stanislav Galiev and former Stingray Brett Flemming all return from a year ago.
“They’ve got some new faces, but they’ve got a fair amount of guys from their last year,” Carbery said. “Brett is obviously a guy we know very well. I like starting the season off with Reading. It’ll give us a good test and let us know where we are. Playing up in their barn isn’t ever easy and we know we’ve got to bring our A game if we’re going to beat them.”
The Stingrays counter with an almost completely revamped lineup. Gone is ECHL MVP and goalie of the year Ryan Zapolski, who left North America to play in Europe.
South Carolina has just four forwards back from last season, but has added veterans like Chad Painchaud, Igor Gongalsky and Jordan Owens. The Stingrays were among the lowest scoring teams in the ECHL last season.
“A big point of emphasis in the summer to was to sign forwards that could put the puck in the net,” Carbery said. “I think we’ve got a very skilled set of forwards and we’re deeper than we’ve been in the past.”
The Stingrays blue line returns three skaters — Kevin Quick, Scooter Vaughan and Luka Vidma — from a season ago, plus Ryan Grimshaw, who played during the playoffs for the Stingrays.
“I like what we have on our blue line,” said Quick. “We’ve got a good mix of skill and experience on the back end.”
The Stingrays have made the playoffs in 19 of the last 20 seasons.