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24 teams in 24 days: Corpus Christi IceRays

August 25, 2013
The 24 Teams in 24 Days series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2013-14 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 13th as eight NAHL teams take to the ice on Opening Night.  24 in 24 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2013-14 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team.  It will also take a look back on the 2012-13 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.  Best of all, 24 in 24 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
 
Corpus Christi IceRays
 
Head Coach: John Becanic
2012-13 record: 28-26-6, 62 pts. (4th in the South Division)
2012-13 leading scorer: Rudy Sulmonte (60 GP, 27G, 41A, 68 Pts, +5)
2013 Playoffs: Lost in the South Division Semi-Finals to Amarillo, 3-1
2013-14 Division: South
First regular season game: Friday, September 13th vs. Topeka RoadRunners, 7:15pm
Home opener: Friday, September 27th vs. Lone Star Brahmas, 7:05pm
 
After missing the playoffs the previous two seasons with sub .500 records, the IceRays had their best NAHL season in 2012-13. After being in a tight race for the fourth and final playoff spot all season with the Wichita Falls Wildcats, the IceRays turned it on the final two months of the season to capture the final playoff berth in the South. Corpus Christi picked up almost half their wins last season during the final two months, going 13-8 to earn a chance to play the South Champion Amarillo Bulls in the South Semi-Finals. The IceRays managed to take Game 1 in Amarillo, which was a signature win. However, three straight losses ended the IceRays season, but the progress the team made wasn’t lost.
 
The IceRays saw the benefit of their good season also translate into a record number of NCAA commitments for the team, as 11 IceRays players moved onto the next level from last year’s squad, highlighted by NCAA Division I commitments by Tommaso Bucci (Mercyhurst), Perry D’Arrisso (Clarkson) and Emil Romig (Denver). The IceRays also continued to increase their popularity in the community as they raised their average attendance almost 8% over the prior season, averaging 3,310 fans at home games last season, which ranked 2nd in the NAHL.
 
The story in the off-season last summer for the IceRays was goaltender Anthony Stolarz being drafted in the 2nd round of the NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. This summer, it was a much different story as the IceRays made a change behind the bench.  Despite leading the IceRays to their best record in their three-year NAHL history and a playoff appearance, head coach Justin Quenneville resigned on June 5th.  Less than a month later, the IceRays found their new bench boss in veteran junior coach John Becanic, who wasn’t a stranger to leading NAHL teams.
 
Becanic is a former NAHL Coach of the Year and also helped lead the Pittsburgh Forge to the Robertson Cup Championship back in 2003, when he captured both awards. His head coaching stints since then have been with Everett in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and then with Wenatchee in the NAHL. “I took a year off of coaching and had time to reflect. I had some time to reenergize and refocus what I wanted to do and what coaching is all about. I consider myself lucky to be coaching and consider it a privilege. I am excited to be back in the NAHL, especially with the IceRays. I think Pat Dunn and the organization runs a first-class operation and will provide the coaching staff all the tools and resources we need to be successful.”
 
Becanic said that the tough competition in the South Division is something that was in the back of their minds when they were building a team this summer, but he philosophy around the composition of the IceRays is rather simple. “It is my experience that if we worry about our opponents and things out of our control, then we don’t control what we want to accomplish as a team,” said Becanic. “I find it a lot easier if we worry about ourselves and things we can control. If we focus on being and acting professional and coming to the rink everyday prepared to be better hockey players, the rest will take care of itself. At the end, we just want to get better every day.”
 
With his knowledge of the division, Becanic said that the IceRays will have to be a hard-working, physical group. “The group this year is going to have to be a hard working bunch, but we also want success past this year, so a certain amount of the building and development will be for future years.”  The IceRays will only have six veterans that will return to the line-up, three forwards, two defenseman and a goalie. The veteran group is led by forward Eric Purcell, who had 27 points last season. The IceRays also have veteran goalie Ben Myers back in goal, which will be key for early season success according to Becanic. “Having an experienced goalie like Ben will be important for us, especially early in the season when guys are still in the initial learning process,” said Becanic
 
Grant Hutton and Caleb O’Brien make up the returning defensemen, while Lucas McDiarmid and Brandon Berkley join Purcell up front. “Our group this season will have to find their identity pretty quick and there will be plenty of chances from the start for the new guys to make their mark and for our veterans to work on their leadership,” said Becanic.
 
With 75% of the roster full of fresh faces, two that will be looked upon to contribute right away are imports and brothers Mikkel and Martin Hojbjerg from Denmark.  They both have a load of international experience and have played in World Junior Tournaments the past few seasons. Defenseman Kyle Froese comes to the IceRays via trade from the Soo Eagles and will provide experience and size on the blueline.
 
The IceRays are hopeful they can rebuild a younger team and go back into the playoffs. However, with an experienced and proven coach like Becanic behind the bench, it appears the picture is much bigger to extend beyond this season in hopes to take the IceRays to the next level for years to come.
 
Next up in the 24 in 24 series: Coulee Region Chill
 
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