South Carolina Stingrays new head coach Steve Bergin is looking to put his own stamp on the team for the upcoming season.
And part of Bergin's plan is to bring a bigger, stronger hockey team to the ice.
With about six weeks left before the opening of training camp, Bergin, who took over in April for Spiros Anastas, is in the process of putting the finishing touches on this year’s roster. He has made a point of signing larger players, especially on defense, where the Stingrays struggled a year ago.
“When we’ve had success in the past during the playoffs, we’ve had bigger, heavier teams,” Bergin said. “We will have our share of smaller skilled guys, but we’ll be a heavier team overall. That seems to be a formula for winning in the playoffs.”
Bergin has also focused on signing players that have a pedigree for winning.
“Getting guys that want to win is important,” Bergin said. “There are guys in this league that want to go out and get as much money as they can, put up the most points and hoped that they can eventually go to Europe and make more money.
"We’re staying away from those guys. We want guys that want to win. We’ve had guys that might have signed for less money because they know what we’ve got coming in and want to compete for championships. The longer you play in the playoffs, the more money you are going to make.”
South Carolina Stingrays owner Todd Halloran experienced ups and downs during his first season with the ECHL hockey team.
Bergin also expects to get a little more help from Hershey, the Stingrays' American League affiliate. Two goalies, including 2018 ECHL goalie of the year Parker Milner, are expected to come from Hershey and spend the majority of the season with the Stingrays.
Bergin has already shuffled the roster considerably from a year ago, trading Tad Kozun and Kevin McKernan to Kansas City for the rights to forward Mark Cooper.
Cooper has played in 152 ECHL games over the past three seasons with Kansas City and Rapid City, compiling 126 points on 52 goals and 74 assists. He has also played in 37 AHL games with Tucson and Chicago.
“This was a good move for us,” Bergin said. “Mark has leadership, experience and he scores. He’s going to help our team win games and he’ll help us off the ice, too.”
In another roster move, Bergin traded rookie defenseman Ryker Killins to Rapid City in exchange for future considerations. Killins signed an AHL contract with the Tucson Roadrunners on July 31. Rapid City serves as Tucson’s ECHL affiliate.
Killins signed with the Stingrays late last season after finishing his collegiate career with Ferris State. In 14 regular-season games, he scored nine points on three goals and six assists.
“It was tough losing Ryker, but we’re happy for him because he’s getting a chance to play at the next level,” Bergin said. “We could have held onto his rights, but we don’t want to be a team that holds guys back guys from fulfilling their dreams. I don’t think that’s good business.”
Bergin is still looking to sign two or three more players before training camp opens in October.
“It’s getting late in the summer and guys that don’t have AHL deals are looking to sign,” Bergin said. “There are still some pretty high-end forwards out there that we’re involved with and hoping to get signed.”
One player that is not expected back in the Lowcountry is team captain Joey Leach, who has retired from the game.
“Joey has been the fabric of our team for the past four seasons,” Bergin said. “Of course we wanted him back, but he wants to start a family and move on with his life and we wish him the best.”
South Carolina opens the season on Oct. 12 on the road against Orlando. The Stingrays' home opener is Oct. 19 against the Solar Bears.