A year ago, South Carolina Stingrays president Rob Concannon went outside the organization to find a new head coach for the first time in the hockey team’s history.
Concannon wasn’t about to go down that same path again.
The Stingrays fired head coach Spiros Anastas after one season and replaced him with assistant coach Steve Bergin, the team announced on Friday.
For decades the Stingrays have promoted from within when looking for a head coach. Rick Adduono, Jason Fitzsimmons, Jared Bednar, Cail MacLean, Spencer Carbery and Ryan Warsofsky all paid their dues as assistant coaches before becoming head coaches.
Last summer, Anastas became the first Stingrays' head coach with no prior connection to the organization since Rick Vaive was hired as the club's first head coach in 1993.
Bergin, who was a candidate last year for the head coaching position, has been with the Stingrays since 2016, serving as an assistant coach for the past three seasons. He becomes the ninth coach in club history.
“It was difficult going outside the organization last year knowing that Steve had been here for two years,” Concannon said. “It was tough to say let’s go outside the organization for the first time."
Concannon said Bergin accepted the decision a year ago and did everything he could this year to make the team successful.
"He understands the passion of our fans and has the respect of our players," Concannon said. "There was no thought of opening up the position this time. We felt like Steve was ready and it was his time."
Anastas, 33, guided South Carolina to a 35-31-6 record and third-place finish in the ECHL’s South Division. The Stingrays qualified for the Kelly Cup playoffs for the 25th time in the club’s 26 years of existence, but were eliminated by the Orlando Solar Bears in the first round.
South Carolina struggled at home, going 17-17-2 during the regular season – the worst mark in club history. At one point, the Stingrays lost 10 straight games from Jan. 30 to March 16 at the North Charleston Coliseum and Anastas was booed by fans during pregame introductions in February.
“Losing 10 straight games at home and losing three straight in the playoffs at the end of the season was not the best,” Concannon said. “There were philosophical differences on and off the ice during the season. There were times when the team came out unspirited and Friday night (Game 4) in the playoffs was a perfect example.”
A sentiment shared by team owner Todd Halloran.
“There were too many times when I felt like we were lacking in our grit and our performance,” Halloran said. “We don’t want to stay satisfied with the status quo, we don’t want to rest on our laurels, we’re constantly looking to improve, so we had to take action. Energy in the building is really important. Not taking advantage of the home crowd, those were certainly some low moments for us the season. There were flashes this season when I felt we got the momentum back, but it wasn’t consistent enough and we have higher standards.”
Anastas, who had a year left on his two-year contract, declined to comment when reached by phone.
Bergin, 31, was brought to the organization by Warsofsky, who is now an assistant coach in the American Hockey with the Charlotte Checkers. Bergin was part of the Stingrays’ Kelly Cup finals appearance in 2017 and helped the team to their best regular-season mark in franchise history the following year.
“There’s been a lot of different emotions over the past two days,” Bergin said. “I’ve gone through a wave of emotions, but in the end I’m really excited for this opportunity.”
A native of Groton, Mass., Bergin spent five seasons as a defenseman with the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League from 2011-16. Prior to turning pro, Bergin played four seasons at the University of Connecticut.
“As an assistant coach you’re a suggestion maker and as a head coach you’re a decision maker,” Bergin said. “The weight of my decisions and how they are going to have a direct impact on the game is going to change. I've got to live and die with those decisions and the ups and downs that come with them.”