CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS – The Corpus Christi IceRays will narrow their final roster for the start of the 2016-17 North American Hockey League (NAHL) season this weekend at the 2016 IceRays Main Camp in Fraser, Mich., and in the process the team will reunite with a strong member of franchise history.
Justin Quenneville, who called Corpus Christi home for seven years both as a player and as a coach, will be helping to host camp this weekend.
“Justin was the face of our team here in Corpus Christi,” said IceRays General Manager Pat Dunn. “He welcomed us open arms at his rink in Michigan. He and Assistant General Manager Cassidy Lange did a great job and put a lot of time in getting everything set up. Justin was there to help us out and get whatever we requested. It will be nice to revisit with ‘Q’ and his family.”
“I’m really excited to work with Justin,” said IceRays Head Coach Brad Flynn. “He knows the area. He knows the organization. He knows the tradition that the IceRays bring. He has been way more than helpful coming from the rink to organizing camp in Fraser. I’m going to pick his brain on the league. He’s been in the league longer than I have, and I think any time you can sit down with a veteran coach you take advantage of that.”
Quenneville, 34, played four seasons from 2006 to 2010 through the final days of IceRays professional hockey in the Central Hockey League (CHL), amassing 96 goals and 159 assists for 255 points with 396 penalty minutes through 234 games while earning two team Most Valuable Player awards, four CHL All-Star selections, league MVP finalist in 2006-07 when leading the team in scoring, 2010 CHL Man of the Year for his work both on and off the ice, and serving as captain for his final two seasons. After working with Brent Hughes as an assistant in the 2010-11 inaugural junior season, the Montreal, Que. native spent two seasons behind the bench as the Head Coach, leading the team to a 54-55-11 record and the first playoff appearance in junior franchise history in the 2012-13 season.
Following that season, Quenneville chose to step down and leave his second home for personal reasons. In the 2013-14 season, he stayed under the NAHL umbrella as the Head Coach of the Metro Jets, members of the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL), while continuing his strong coaching legacy. In his three seasons, the team has earned a 94-42-6 record with Silver Cup Playoff appearances in all three seasons while winning the East Division in each of the last two seasons. The Jets have also made two appearances in the Silver Cup Round Robin Semifinals including the Silver Cup Final last season despite falling in the championship.
Looking back, his decision to leave Corpus Christi was bittersweet, and that link is a large reason why this decision to help the IceRays was simple.
“Leaving to move up north was one of the hardest decisions of my life,” said Quenneville. “I want to continue to help the organization the same way it did for me for many years. Besides, we have a great venue here to host their Main Camp.”
IceRays Main Camp returns to the Detroit suburbs in the Jets’ home rink at Fraser Hockeyland, resting on the northern side of downtown and on the opposite side of the city where the camp resided just two years ago. Quenneville and the IceRays staff have worked diligently to develop scheduling, optimize the facility, and organize the camp to best fit the IceRays’ needs while also catering to the offerings of Fraser Hockeyland and providing opportunities for the Metro Jets throughout camp. Partnerships between NAHL and NA3HL teams for camps and player promotion are not uncommon across the league or for the IceRays, who partnered with the former Sugar Land Imperials for last year’s camp, but this year’s camp will work well for both sides with rich traditional programs.
“We take pride in setting the bar for advancement, but more importantly being able to grow our network with more NAHL clubs is always a positive. Selfishly, I would love to see my former club benefit from some of the players that have come out of our metro Detroit program as so many others have. It’s all about networking, and I look forward to helping Brad and the staff in anyway possible.”
“Underneath the umbrella of the NAHL with the NA3HL, we develop partnerships, and I think you see a lot of movement from the NA3HL to the NAHL and then on to university,” said Flynn. “There’s quality players in every league, and obviously there’s only so many players for each roster, so I need to build more relationships at the NA3HL level. More than ever, there are quality players coming out of the league.”
Focus will be on the ice throughout the weekend for all parties involved, but it’s hard to deny the meaning for both the IceRays organization and Quenneville when meeting up for a few days of hockey this weekend.
“Pat was a great mentor and friend to me and my family,” said Quenneville. “Cass is a friend for life, and it’s great to see him continue to succeed within the organization. The entire staff and people within the organization are like a second family for me, so just to be able to see them for a few days will be special.”
During the reuniting process, the IceRays will narrow their player pool to the mandated 30-man list ahead of training camp in August at the American Bank Center starting tomorrow night. The four-day camp is the last chance for invites, returning players, draft picks and tenders to impress the hockey operations staff to earn one of those coveted roster spots. With over 100 registrants to the invitation-only camp, this is the largest IceRays Main Camp and is set to be the most competitive.
“Compared to the two camps that I did this year coupled with the two I’ve done as an assistant coach in the past, by far up and down our staff list everyone has agreed that this is the deepest camp we’ve had,” said Flynn. “Out of each camp, we’ve taken at least a quarter of the kids that participated in each camp, and they’re all high-end guys. We were extremely pleased with the camps we had in St. Louis and Virginia, and coupled with the kids who are coming to Main Camp we’re expecting a very high-caliber camp.”
After the results from the 2015-16 season, the change in IceRays Hockey Operations personnel, and a fresh play style, this year’s camp is being left wide open. Many members of last season’s team will return this weekend to an IceRays practice uniform looking to defend their roster position, but new additions and surprises from the rest of the field will be highly considered in the process. In short, the best unit of 30 players will make training camp. It’s been made clear by Flynn that the team will not just look for the most talented players but the best team of players and that not every spot is not necessarily safe for returning players, draft picks and tenders.
“I’d be lying if I said every spot is open, but on every team there’s a couple untouchables that you feel very strongly are untouchables. In saying that, if Wayne Gretzky can get traded then nobody is safe. Our job was to bring in as many good players as we can. We’re bringing in high-caliber players, and the returning guys know what it’s like to play in Corpus Christi and what a privilege it is. They have to come prepared not only to make the team but to contribute, and that’s how we’re looking at it.”
The IceRays will have images from Main Camp over the weekend on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with a recap of the event next week.
The IceRays open the 2016-17 home schedule on Friday, Oct. 14 against the Odessa Jackalopes at the American Bank Center. Purchase your 2016-17 season ticket membership ahead of opening night! Reserve yours by contacting the IceRays Front Office at 361-814-PUCK. In addition, stay connected with the IceRays on Facebook (/CorpusChristiIceRays), Twitter (@goicerays), YouTube (IceRays TV), Instagram (CorpusChristiIceRays), Vine (@goicerays), and Periscope (@goicerays).