Thursday, 01.18.18 / 9:42 am CT
As the 2017-18 campaign has gone on, a handful of players on the IceRays have taken the reins and run point on the team’s production, not only breaking franchise records but also surging to the top of the North American Hockey League in certain categories. Over the last two months, Brendan Miller, Matt Acciaioli, Larry Jungwirth, and Rylee St. Onge have all achieved outstanding individual feats, and in doing so have helped the team rise from the South division cellar right up into the mix for the second playoff seed.
In his third and final season with the IceRays, the captain has played in every game he was eligible to play in this season, running the team’s top penalty kill unit and leading all IceRays in shorthanded goals (2). His versatility has proven to encompass a wide range of departments of late, as he was recently promoted to the IceRays’ top power play, as well. He’s already tied for third on the team with three power play assists.
Miller has been an iron man over his junior hockey career and has played in more games as an IceRay than anyone on the current roster (150). He has taken his game to the next level lately, now that the stakes have risen and the team is jostling for positioning in an exceptionally competitive South division. He has racked up eight points (3 G, 5 A) in as many games since the day before the holiday break, boasting a +3 rating over that span.
He has all but matched his previous scoring totals from each of his previous two seasons, with 22 contests yet to be played in 2017-18. His competitiveness is indisputable as his hard-nosed style has resulted in a division-leading 93 penalty minutes, which is third-highest in the entire NAHL. His PIMS notwithstanding, Miller has also been the most trusted team spokesman when discussing officiating decisions on the ice.
The IceRays top defenseman has had a breakout campaign in his final year of juniors. Having played in all but one game this season, Acciaioli leads the IceRays defense-corps with 23 points (3 G, 20 A) in 37 games and sits tied for 7th among all NAHL defensemen in scoring.
He’s developed into a very capable power play quarterback, which is a position that requires a special type of player to take on. Of the 18 power play goals the Rays have tallied on the campaign, Acciaioli has scored or assisted on half of them. His precise passing, deft hands, and deceptive playmaking skills have helped the Rays’ offense come to life lately, as the team has averaged 3.6 goals per game throughout the month of January.
Defensively, Acciaioli plays in the most critical of situations for the IceRays and the numbers reflect how sturdy he has been in his own zone. Aside from Julian Makary, who played the majority of the season with Philadelphia, Acciaioli is tied with Blake Coffey for the team lead in +/- with a +6 rating. He’s also proven to be a physical force to be reckoned with, which is especially impressive considering his modest 5’10, 170 lb. frame. He leads all South division defensemen in penalty minutes with 87, already passing his total from last season by a substantial margin. Without question, Acciaioli has emerged as one of the top all-around blue-liners in the NAHL this season.
Rylee St. Onge
No player in the NAHL has a hotter stick right now than Rylee St. Onge. He’s scored nine goals in his last seven games, not only leading the league with the longest active goal-scoring streak, but tying an eight-year franchise record in the process. His teammate and ex-linemate Larry Jungwirth is the only other IceRay in history to score a goal in seven consecutive games.
St. Onge tallied his first NAHL hat trick three weeks before going on his streak, which has continued since the first game after Christmas. A three-time 18+ goal-scorer in the Ontario Junior Hockey League before coming to Corpus Christi, it took him some time to find his groove in a much more physical league. Now, he is second on the team in scoring with 29 points in 30 games played, and is the only player in junior franchise history to wear a letter on his jersey without starting the season with the IceRays.
As Coach Brad Flynn is fond of saying, St. Onge is someone who plays the game “the right way.” He’s by all accounts a 200-foot-player, which is an invaluable attribute often lacking in pure goal-scorers. His most recent strike, which tied the franchise record, came while he was shorthanded after he’d been fighting off Amarillo’s power play. In his first season playing American junior hockey, the 19-year-old has established himself as a core component of the IceRays’ leadership group on and off the ice.
Jungwirth has strung together yet another point streak, finding the scoresheet in each of his last five contests. Missing three games at the beginning of the month didn’t hamper his offensive prowess in the slightest, as he managed to light the lamp three times in his first weekend back.
The Shattuck St. Mary’s product has dazzled fans and opponents alike with his highlight-reel plays. His silky hands, his unmatched patience with the puck, and his poised goal-scoring touch have propelled him to the top of the NAHL leaderboards in goals this season, now sitting at third in the entire league with 21 in 33 games played. Jungwirth has had an explosive year in his final season of junior hockey, leading the IceRays with 36 points.
On November 18th, 2017, Jungwirth became the first player in junior franchise history to score a goal in six consecutive games. He would later extend it to seven by forcing overtime after burying a screen shot with just seven seconds remaining against the Odessa Jackalopes. He’s come through in the most crucial moments this season, leading the team with three game-winning goals. Jungwirth’s production has skyrocketed to the point at which every team in the division is distinctly cautious when he’s on the ice. Should he continue to lead the IceRays’ attack at the rate he has, even the elite goaltenders littering the South division will have a difficult time keeping the Rays off the scoreboard.
The four of these players have each stepped up in an immense way this season and have shouldered a critical role in ensuring the team’s success. Generally speaking, the higher the stakes have been, the more these players have come to the forefront. With the playoffs beginning to look less abstract and more imminent by the day, expect the four of them to only improve their play further in the coming months.