BY: COLLIN SCHUCK
It’s been a memorable start for the Corpus Christi IceRays in the 2014-15 season, getting off to their best start as a junior franchise in just their fifth season in the North American Hockey League and owning the best average attendance of all 24 NAHL teams at this point of the season. Yet as we look to the future, we must also peer upon the past that has helped build the foundation for today’s IceRays squad. With that, we’ll look to the skaters of IceRays past and track their careers as they progress from the junior level through the collegiate ranks to those that have made it to the highest levels of hockey.
This is the first edition of the IceRays Alumni Report.
Unlike Drake, we’ll start from the top in the National Hockey League and work our way down. Though he may not have been part of the junior franchise, forward Ryan Garbutt (’09-’10) of the Dallas Stars has his roots within Corpus Christi as one of the final players to wear the uniform as a member of the Central Hockey League. Garbutt has already treaded through five games this season with the Stars, and he’s already put up points. In the season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks, Garbutt earned an assist on the go-ahead goal by Cody Eakin in the second period in their 3-2 shootout loss. Two nights later, Garbutt earned another assist on the opening Antoine Roussel goal in their eventual 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators.
Two young former IceRays netminders have just begun their seasons in the American Hockey League as divisional opponents. Pheonix Copley (’10-’11) has had an impeccable beginning with the Washington Capitals organization. After a strong showing in pre-season play with the Capitals, Copley made his debut with the Hershey Bears on October 13 against the Norfolk Admirals (ANA), saving 29 of 31 shots en route Hershey’s 5-2 win and Copley’s first win in the AHL. Last weekend, Copley continued his winning ways with a 15-save shutout against the Hartford Wolf Pack in their 1-0 overtime win.
Further east in Pennsylvania, Anthony Stolarz (’11-’12) made his debut with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last Saturday night against the Adirondack Flames, saving 32 of 35 shots in the team’s 4-2 loss. Stolarz also appeared with his NHL club, the Philadelphia Flyers, during the pre-season and factored in to his placing in the AHL to start the season.
NCAA Division I men’s hockey is in full swing after starting up a few weeks ago, and the IceRays have 13 former players in NCAA Division I action. Included in the pack is forward Payden Mielke (’11-'12), who played in the NAHL for two additional seasons before committing to Colorado State University (ACHA). He opened the season with a three-game point streak, earning one goal and three assists for four points with his goal coming in his second game. On Saturday, Mielke earned his sixth point in an 8-1 victory over Midland University.
The University of Alabama-Huntsville (WCHA) is four games into their season, and already forward Frank Misuraca (’11-’12) is making a large contribution in his junior season. Already, Misuraca is in a share for the team lead in goals and points, earning two goals and one assist. His first goal and assist of the season came on October 11 in a 4-3 loss to Colorado College, and just last Saturday he added one more goal, scoring the lone tally in their 4-1 loss to Bowling Green.
In one of the newer Division I conference, forward Matt Weis (’11-’12) has shown his strength in his first four games of his Ohio State Buckeyes (Big-10) career, racking up four assists to move into a share of the team lead in that category and tied for second in points overall. His opening game against #3 Providence was a huge result for both Ohio State and Weis as the team opened their season with a 5-4 overtime victory. Weis earned three assists in that game, including the primary assist in Anthony Greco’s game-winning goal.
Though the Cornell Big Red (ECAC) haven’t begun their 2014-15 campaign, goaltender Hayden Stewart (’12-’13) is already garnering recognition. In an article by SB Nation College Hockey, Stewart was awarded a spot in what writer Chris Dilks organized as the second-ranked goaltender on his All-Illinois College Hockey Team behind Ryan McKay (Miami-Ohio). Dilks states: “Two of the USHL's best goalies last year are backing him up. Any of these three would be capable of starting 30+ games and carrying a team.”
With the NCAA Division III side still waiting for their opening weekends at the tail end of the month, we move to other junior hockey in the United States Hockey League (USHL), where four former players currently take the ice. Among them is last season’s leading point scorer, forward Jake Durflinger (’13-‘14), and defenseman Chad Pietroniro (’11-’12), who both play with the Sioux City Musketeers. Durflinger has earned two assists through his first eight games with a plus-three with both assists coming against Sioux Falls in 4-1 wins. Pietroniro already has two games under his belt, and his first was his biggest with 17 penalty minutes on one fight in a 4-3 overtime loss. Defenseman Grant Hutton (’12-’14) has warmed up to the USHL well with the Tri-City Storm, recording two assists in four games with a helper on Saturday against Green Bay.
Another Pietroniro and former IceRays defenseman has taken to the Canadian junior ranks. Phil Pietroniro (’11-’13) enters his third and final season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), this season with the Gatineau Olympiques. They’re already well into their campaign, and Pietroniro has logged one goal and six assists with 34 penalty minutes through 15 games. He opened the season with five assists in four games but has cooled off since that early effort.
On one final and more personal note, though they didn’t play on the ice with the IceRays, their impacts were brought to you through their coverage of the team. I’d like to also recognize former IceRays broadcasters Josh Bogorad (’03-’10) and Rob Lippolis (’11-’14) on their debuts in their new positions. Josh begins his first season as the studio host for pre-game, post-game and intermission with the Dallas Stars (NHL) on FOX Sports Southwest, and Rob is also well into his first season with the Omaha Lancers (USHL) as their new Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations. They’ve paved the way for my opportunity with the IceRays, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the examples they set.
Over 50 alumni are continuing their careers after their time in Corpus Christi, and throughout the season we’ll highlight a few each Tuesday this season that are making waves. The season can be a grind, but we always hope each and every player that adorns an IceRays uniform finds success in whatever trail they blaze to reach the ultimate goal: a roster spot at The Show.
Collin Schuck is the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Corpus Christi IceRays. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.