South Carolina coach Cail MacLean is a first-hand believer in hockey's trickle-down effect.
A strong affiliation with teams in the NHL and the American Hockey League can mean the difference between success and failure on the ice for teams in the ECHL.
The Stingrays renewed their affiliation with the Washington Capitals and the Hershey Bears for the sixth consecutive season Tuesday morning. A year ago, the Capitals won the NHL's President's Cup with the best regular season record, while the Bears captured their second straight Calder Cup title.
"Washington and Hershey are committed to winning and, as a result, have built very strong, very deep organizations," MacLean said. "Washington wants to develop their younger players, so they've got a lot of depth in their organization and the Stingrays organization has been a direct beneficiary of that commitment to excellence.
"The players we've had here in South Carolina over the past few years have been major contributors and have gone on to do well not only in the ECHL, but in the American League. I consider it a three-tier organization."
Last season, the Stingrays received six players who were under contracts with the Capitals including goaltender Braden Holtby and Washington's 2005 first-round draft pick in defenseman Joe Finley.
Holtby, 20, appeared in 13 games with the Stingrays last season, going 7-2-3 overall. He finished the year with Hershey, leading the AHL in wins (24), and all AHL rookie goaltenders in goals-against average (2.32) and save percentage (.917). He also dressed in five games as a backup for the Capitals.
Finley, 23, missed all but 17 games in 2009 due to a hand injury, but still registered a goal and four assists. Other players under contract with either Hershey or Washington included forwards Jake Hauswirth, Trevor Buress and Michael Dubuc along with defensemen Josh Godfrey, Dylan Yeo and Patrick Wellar.
"Our affiliation with South Carolina has been beneficial for the Capitals, our prospects and the Stingrays," said Washington vice president and general manager George McPhee. "The city and the franchise have given our prospects a good place to play and develop as professionals."
In all, the Stingrays had 14 players called up to the AHL last season.
"My No. 1 job is to win games for the South Carolina Stingrays," MacLean said. "But a huge part of my job is to develop players for the next level. I know our fans get frustrated with all the call-ups, but they have to understand that part of our job is to get these players, make them better, so they can play in the American League or hopefully the NHL one day."
MacLean said he expects as many as 10 players from Washington and Hershey this season.
"It could be pretty substantial," MacLean said. "But it's looking like we could have as many as 10 contract guys here."
South Carolina began its affiliation with Washington prior to the 2004-05 season. Since then, eight players -- Maxime Daigneault, Jonas Johansson, Daren Machesney, Joey Tenute, Sean Collins, Andrew Gordon, Michal Neuvirth and Holtby-- have gone on to play or dress for the Capitals.