The 23 in 23 series features a look at all 23 teams in the NAHL for the 2017-18 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 23 in 23 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with 23 coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Corpus Christi IceRays
Last season was one for the record books for the Corpus Christi IceRays. The southern-most team in the NAHL is still riding high off of what was their best season to date in the league. Their 32 wins were an NAHL franchise record since entering the league back in 2010-11. The IceRays then won their South Division Semi-Final series against the Shreveport Mudbugs, setting up an epic showdown with the Lone Star Brahmas in the South Division Finals. The South Final was one that hockey fans dream about and the epitome of what playoff hockey should be. Three out of the five games went to overtime, including the 5th and decisive game, which could have gone either way. In the end, the eventual champion Brahmas edged out a 1-0 overtime win in Game 5 to conclude the magical run for the IceRays.
“I think as the old saying is supposed to go ‘time heals all wounds,’ and while we were very proud of what we accomplished last season, it was frustrating to get that close to our ultimate goal of winning a Robertson Cup,” said IceRays head coach Brad Flynn. “We are excited about a new chapter beginning this season and hopefully we learned some lessons from last year that can translate into even more success this season as we look to give our best effort each and every game.”
The IceRays posted a very good total of nine NCAA commitments during the 2016-17 season, which included rookie goaltender Tomas Vomacka, who committed to the University of Connecticut. It was one of many notable accomplishments for the netminder from the Czech Republic, who was named to the NAHL All-Rookie 1st Team at the conclusion of the season.
However, the icing on the cake for the IceRays and Vomacka came later in the Summer when he was selected by the Nashville Predators in the 5th round of the 2017 NHL Draft. It marked the second time that the IceRays have seen one of their goalies selected in the NHL Draft. “The NHL Draft was an unbelievable experience,” said Flynn, who attended the Draft with Vomacka and several other IceRays personnel. “For Tomas, it was a remarkable experience and we are really excited for him and our organization as well.”
Now the IceRays enter the 2017-18 season with their sights set on topping their record-breaking run last season. For Flynn, it all starts with the culture he tries to set for his players. “We have a good nucleus coming back and the first and most important thing we try and do is establish the culture of our team. We need to grow and get better from Day 1. We already have veterans in place that have embraced leadership roles and that is something that is so important as we come into training camp and begin the season,” said Flynn.
This season will also be a special one for the IceRays as they celebrate their 20th year of hockey in Corpus Christi. In July 1997, the IceRays announced their membership in the Western Professional Hockey League. After playing in the professional ranks for 12 seasons, it was then off to the NAHL for a new era in 2010-11. The IceRays franchise has hosted an average of 3,000 fans per game in 18 of their 19 seasons while leading the NAHL in each of their last four years, continue to maintain their commitment to the Corpus Christi community through charitable donations, fundraisers and community appearances, and provide an outlet to a sport style that fits well with the fabric of the city and its members.
Flynn said that part of that experience and learning process is playing in Corpus Christi, Texas, which has established itself as a hockey town and huge supporter of the IceRays organization. “Corpus Christi is an unbelievable community and it is so important for us to be out and apart of the community. We have a great fan base and it is an important part of the experience for our players while they are here,” said Flynn. “They saw a team last year that won games and won some games at home in front of big crowds, so that is something we hope to continue and build off of this season.”