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NA Now: Corpus Christi IceRays

August 14, 2023

The NA Now series features a look at all 32 teams in the NAHL for the 2023-24 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. NA Now looks into each NAHL team including interviews with all the head 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

Head Coach: Sylvain Cloutier (2nd Season)

2022-23 record: 60 GP, 11-42-7, 29 pts. (8th in the South Division)

2022-23 leading scorer: Dylan Contreras (32 points)

2023 Playoffs: Did not qualify

2023-24 Division: South

First regular season game: Wednesday, September 13th vs. Aberdeen Wings

Home opener: Friday, September 22nd vs. El Paso Rhinos

It was a rough season for first-year head coach Sylvain Cloutier and the Corpus Christi IceRays in 2022-23. The team took a step back from the year before and finished with just 11 wins, which ranked second to last in the NAHL last season. While the IceRays did show some promise with the ability to put pucks in the net, it was their inability of keep pucks out of their own net that plagued the team. The IceRays allowed an NAHL-high 255 goals last season, giving up 4.25 goals per game.

“It was a tough year for sure. You must find guys that want to be in Corpus Christi to play hockey and continue their careers. We have one of the nicest places to play in the league and a gorgeous arena just yards away from the Gulf of Mexico with great crowd support, but guys have to want to be here,” said Cloutier. “Despite finishing in last place last season, our crowds were so supportive and huge even at the end of the season. We want to be a team that returns the favor and wins for them, so we see an increase in attendance, and it becomes an even better home-ice advantage. I think we can do that this season.”

Heading into the 2023-24 season, the IceRays will have many new faces, including almost an entirely new defensive corps and two new goalies. “It was a very busy off-season for us, and my staff and I have been hard at work. We are excited to get started on a new season and put last year behind us,” said Cloutier. “We made a lot of changes throughout the year last season trying to find the right chemistry. Heading into Year 2 and having a full season to recruit, I think we have found the right mix of players to make us successful.”

Returning at forward will be Anthony Cafarelli, who took over as captain mid-season last year. The 20-year-old recorded 25 points in 56 games played last season. “We will need Anthony to lead and bring our core group together to be successful,” said Cloutier. Another returning player is forward Stepan Kuznetsov, who had 25 points in 51 games played last season. The 19-year-old has 51 points in 87 career NAHL games and Cloutier is expecting big things from the veteran forward. “Stepan could be the one guy that changes the game. He’s done it before and a guy with two years’ experience in the NAHL, he is more than capable of doing it on a consistent basis for us,” said Cloutier.

Watch: NA Now video interview with Sylvain Cloutier

Defenseman Arvid Lundberg arrives for his first season in North America after playing his entire career to date in Sweden. Another new addition is forward and RPI commit Mathieu Bourgault, who has had three successful seasons playing junior hockey in Canada. Other newcomers who Cloutier mentioned he expects big things from include forwards Billy Biedermann and Pierson Sobush, who both played Junior A in Canada last year and were two of the IceRays’ top three draft picks in the 2023 NAHL Draft.

“We are happy with both our tenders and draft picks. They showed up at main camp and were ready to play and in shape. In the Draft, we really tried to focus on getting players with junior experience but still on the younger side. We needed guys that wanted to compete and have some pushback and grit. We had a lot of skill last year, but a lot of them had the same skill set. We need all kinds of pieces to the puzzle to be successful so that’s what we went out and tried to get for his upcoming season,” said Cloutier.

The IceRays open their season at the NAHL Showcase with games against Aberdeen, New Hampshire, Minot, and Maine, and Cloutier is hoping that his team can be ready from Game 1 and show off that they have this season “The NAHL Showcase is such a huge opportunity for the players. We have to be more prepared, and I think starting training camp in Corpus Christi will be a big plus for us. Guys can come in, get settled, get to know their billet families, and be ready to go,” said Cloutier. “It’s not fun to be out of the playoffs, so it is our #1 goal this season to make the post-season. Our fans deserve that. You can afford to take a night off and you have to get points every weekend. While we were competitive in games last year, it just wasn’t enough. You have to play for 60 minutes. Our division is too good, too strong and too well-coached to take nights off.”

Next Up: Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks

 
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