Despite the fact that Andrew Rowe has spent most of the season with the Charlotte Checkers in the American Hockey League, he has always been a South Carolina Stingray at heart.
Rowe, who was named the Stingrays’ captain at the beginning of the season, returns to the South Carolina lineup Friday night after more than two months in the AHL.
Rowe, 26, has played in just seven games with the Stingrays this season, but said the team was never far from his thoughts when he was in Charlotte.
“When you get called up you’re really not sure what the situation is going to be like,” said Rowe, who played in 28 games for the Checkers, recording one goal and four assists. “You don’t know how long you’re going to be there and what kind of role you’re going to have. I had a great experience in Charlotte, but even from the beginning I tried to stay in touch with the guys in South Carolina.”
When Rowe left South Carolina in early November, the Stingrays were struggling to score goals and find an identity. South Carolina was near the bottom of the standings in the ECHL East Division. Rowe, a former Michigan State star, had been the team’s leading scorer with four goals and three assists in seven games when he was called up to Charlotte.
While he was away, the Stingrays turned things around and are now one of the hottest teams in the ECHL.
“It’s been great to watch them really find their stride,” Rowe said. “I knew when I was here early that it was only a matter of time before they’d start winning. We had a really young team and there were going to be some growing pains. It seems like they’ve put it all together. I just want to come back, fit in and not mess anything up.”
Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery said Rowe is a valuable addition to the Stingrays’ offense. He was a 30-goal scorer last season in the ECHL with the Greenville Road Warriors.
“Andrew is a high-impact guy in our league,” Carbery said. “From the very beginning of training camp, Andrew has been a huge part of this team, and that’s why we made him a captain. He’s taken on the leadership role from day one. He just wants to win so badly, and that’s what makes him so valuable. He was in constant contact with us when he was in Charlotte, so he cares about this team.”
Rowe said getting sent down from the AHL isn’t hard to accept because of his bond with the Stingrays.
“Sure, I wanted a long-term contract in Charlotte, but that wasn’t going to happen for me,” Rowe said. “I’m just really excited to be back down in Charleston and see all the guys. I’ve made a lot of great friends on this team, and my goal is to help this team win another (Kelly Cup) championship.”
Rowe won’t be the only player returning from the AHL for the Stingrays on Friday. Andrew Ammon and Wayne Simpson return from the AHL’s Providence Bruins.
Simpson is the Stingrays’ leading scorer with nine goals and a team-high 15 assists.
“Getting those guys back is only going to add more depth to the roster,” Carbery said.
Joe Diamond, who has been out of the lineup for more than six weeks with an upper body injury, also is expected to return Friday when the Stingrays take on Toledo at the North Charleston Coliseum. Diamond had three goals and four assists in seven games before he was injured.
“Joe is another high-end skill guy that has proven he can score in this league,” Carbery said. “He has worked extremely hard to get back on the ice from his injury.”
Rugged winger Tim Spencer also will be in the Stingrays’ lineup this weekend. The 6-6, 230-pound Spencer had 29 penalty minutes in 12 games with the Hershey Bears.
South Carolina has three home games this weekend, starting with Friday’s game against Toledo at 7:05 p.m. On Saturday, the Stingrays play Indianapolis at 7:05, and on Sunday they face Toledo again at 3:05 p.m.