The month of January was not kind to the South Carolina Stingrays. The Stingrays won just two out of 11 games during January and scored a total of 18 goals.
The Stingrays plummeted from being one of the hottest teams in the ECHL to the bottom of the East Division standings with the real prospect of being knocked out of the postseason for only the second time in the franchise’s 22-year history.
What the Stingrays desperately needed to happen was for a player, any player, to step forward and start scoring goals.
Enter rookie Derek DeBlois.
During the first three months of his pro career, DeBlois had distinguished himself as a solid, hard-working two-player forward with a blue collar attitude. He had been used mainly on the Stingrays’ third line and had been one of their top penalty killers.
Scoring goals really wasn’t a part of his skill set. DeBlois had just five goals and 11 assists through his first 37 games in the ECHL.
But all has changed since January turned to February.
DeBlois has five goals and three assists, including a four-goal performance this past Sunday against Gwinnett, in the first three games in February. The Stingrays won all three games and have scored as many goals in February — 18 — as they did during the entire month of January. The Stingrays also have crawled their way back into playoff contention.
“We needed someone to get hot, to start putting the puck in the net, and give everyone some confidence,” said Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery. “It’s such a mental game. Once one person gets going offensively, then it’s usually contagious, and everyone starts putting the puck in the back of the net. Honestly, the way we played the last three games isn’t much different than how we played in January. We’re getting the same amount of chances, but now we’re scoring.”
DeBlois, a former University of Michigan star, was an unlikely goal-scoring hero for the Stingrays. In nine games in January, DeBlois recorded just one assist. The Narragansett, R.I., native admitted that his confidence had been shaken with the lack of productivity early in his pro career.
“Hockey is 90 percent mental, and if you’re not scoring and doing the things it takes to help the team win, you start to grip your stick a little tighter each game,” DeBlois said. “I was getting some chances, but the bounces were not going my way.”
DeBlois sat down with Carbery and assistant coach Ryan Warsofsky for a lengthy video session. It proved to be a turning point.
“Derek was fine, he was doing a lot of good things for this hockey team,” Carbery said. “The only thing he wasn’t doing was showing up on the scoresheet, and when you’re a rookie, I think you start to think about that. We just told him to keep doing what he was doing for us on the penalty kill and in our defensive zone and he was going to be fine. If he scored a goal or chipped in offensively that was fine, but we were not expecting him to be a point-a-game guy for us.”
Like a batter in baseball breaking out of a hitting slump, DeBlois began to relax and find some success. He had two assists in the Stingrays’ 7-1 win over Greenville last Saturday.
Then followed that up with the most productive game of his professional career, scoring four goals in a 6-3 win over Gwinnett, just one goal shy of Sylvain Fleury’s franchise record of five goals set during the team’s first season in 1993-94. He finished the three-game set with five goals and three assists and was named the ECHL’s player of the week.
“I think the last time I scored four goals in a game was my junior year in high school,” DeBlois said. “It was a great night. I was getting great opportunities. I shot at a lot of open nets and a lot of that credit goes to the guys on my line — Braden Pimm and Andrew Rowe. There’s no secret formula. Sometimes the puck is going in for you and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve just been getting the bounces here lately.”
Despite DeBlois’ recent offensive output, Carbery isn’t expecting him to maintain this scoring pace the rest of the season. In 41 games, DeBlois has 10 goals and 14 assists.
“We just need Derek to be Derek, we’ll be fine,” Carbery said. “If he continues to play well defensively like he has all season, he’ll be fine. And if we gets a goal here and there, that’s just icing on the cake for us.”