South Report: Incentives remain as IceRays close season

One of the newest members of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), the Corpus Christi IceRays made a huge impact to begin their history in the NAHL.  

First came the transition into the NAHL and the introduction of players who hopefully one day would be the future of hockey. Immediately, the IceRays raised some eyebrows at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn., to start the season, going 3-1. Three wins in four games just two weeks later and a 5-4 record in the month of November had the IceRays creeping towards the top of the South Division standings.

However, a 7-16-1 record in December, January and February put the IceRays behind the 8-ball as the playoff stretch heated up. It’s safe to say the IceRays learned a lot in their first season in the NAHL and, despite just missing the playoffs this year, for the players and coaches there’s plenty to be proud of.

“I think the most positive thing for us right now is that the majority of the players who are playing in every game, logging the long minutes and producing for us, are guys who are still young and will be back here next year,” said IceRays head coach Brent Hughes 

Case in point: The IceRays’ top-five scorers will still be young enough to return next season, and their leading scorer,Beau Walker, is just 18-years-old.

Walker, from West Richland, Wash., has been a beacon of light this year for the IceRays. He leads Corpus Christi in points and assists and is in the top 15 in league scoring. He was also one of only a few players in the entire league to have participated in both NAHL Top Prospect tournaments this season.  

“Beau is a kid who came into the beginning of the season as a defensive forward, but, as the year progressed, he took on a scoring role and hasn’t looked back,” said Hughes. “He’s a big reason for this team and our fans to be excited for next season.”
  
Hughes also points out youngsters like Seth Blair, Cody Milligan and goaltender Pheonix Copley. 

To say Copley has shouldered the load is putting it mildly. Copley, who just turned 19, has played in 25 of last 27 IceRays games.  

“Pheonix is an outstanding athlete and a great person,” said Hughes. “I think all the experience and game situations will make him a better goaltender in the long run and a key piece of our team heading into next season. He’s proven he can play at this level.”

As for the remainder of this season, the IceRays have five games remaining, including three on the road this weekend against Texas (one) and Amarillo (two) before returning home next weekend for their final two games against New Mexico.  

“There’s plenty to play for,” said Hughes. “Guys are playing for spots next season. We want to see who wants to be with us and who doesn’t, so we hope they’re going out there every shift and giving it their all.  

“We’re also working on some different combinations and systems for next season as well, so we want to finish strong and win as many games as we can.”

As for Hughes, he has learned a lot as well.  

“This year has been a big learning experience for me,” he said. “I thought I’d be a better junior coach than a pro coach, but I had to get back to basics more than I thought. It really has given me a good idea of what to do next year.

“We're dealing with a whole new generation of players,” he added. “They play for something different and pure. They need more care and supervision, but they respond with positive reinforcement and explanation of their mistakes.”