The Elmira Jackals, Toledo Walleye, Florida Everblades and Greenville Road Warriors are likely hockey teams you’ve never heard of, but by the end of the season might be part of the local sports vernacular.
Next week, Nelson Minor Hockey grad Alex MacLeod will take the next step in his career when he hits the training camp ice for the East Coast Hockey League’s (ECHL) South Carolina Stingrays.
“It’s going to be an eye-opening experience, but I’m excited about it,” MacLeod told the Star last week.
Last spring MacLeod completed his four-year NCAA journey when he played his final game with the Michigan Tech Huskies. Once his amateur status was finished, he was contacted by the Stingrays who had seen the rugged winger in action. The ECHL team wanted him to bolt down to North Charleston, South Carolina for the remainder of the season, but MacLeod had to pass.
“I told them I would love to come, but I was worried that I wouldn’t pass all my classes with time left in school,” said MacLeod.
MacLeod stayed in Houghton, Michigan to complete his degree in mechanical engineering, hoping the offer would still stand for the 2012-13 season. It was the right choice as the Stingrays continued to call. In June he agreed to commit to the team and signed a contract.
After a summer of training and working in Edmonton, MacLeod left for the southern States in early September. Last week he returned to Houghton for more training and is now on his way to South Carolina. Training camp starts October 1.
“There is definitely an opportunity if you make it for yourself,” he said. “It’s the next step after college hockey, I’m pretty excited about it.”
Though optimistic, there are no guarantees. MacLeod has signed a contract that goes week to week. He first must make the team and then has to stick. Until he establishes himself, he can be released at any time.
“When you get there, you have to find a place on the team,” said MacLeod. “I have to find my role and play really well so that I stick and move up the line-up.”
At 6’0” and 215 pounds, the power forward expects his role to be similar to what got him to this point in his hockey career. In Junior A with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL and the Camrose Kodiaks of the AJHL, MacLeod scored when needed and delivered grit every shift. His career totals at Michigan Tech saw him score 23 goals and add 19 assists in 144 games.
Regardless of how it works out, MacLeod is happy to at least have a shot at the professional ranks.
“Obviously my goal is to play in the National Hockey League (NHL), but at the same time I have a degree,” he said. “I have that to fall back on, but right now I want to give it all I can see where the hockey world takes me.”
The ECHL is a development league with teams playing in smaller cities throughout the United States (the closest to Nelson being the Idaho Steelheads in Boise). It is a feeder for the American Hockey League (AHL) and in turn the NHL. The Stingrays are affiliated with the Providence Bruins of the AHL and the Boston Bruins of the NHL. Though some Stingrays players are on contract with the Bruins, MacLeod is not. Based on his play, MacLeod could be
signed on by any team in the AHL over the course of the season.
This season could be a little more challenging for players like MacLeod because of the NHL lockout. Many of the teams are sending players to the AHL that are on two-way contracts and in turn those teams will send down more players to the ECHL.
“It’s pretty complicated and it depends on the team,” said MacLeod. “It creates a little bit more traffic, so I’m guessing there might be a few more guys playing in the ECHL on an NHL contract. It’s a small increase, but not dramatic.”
The Stingrays play in the ECHL’s South Conference which would have him tromping around the American south all winter. If he sticks, the sunshine will be a huge change from his winters spent in the Kootenays, Camrose and Houghton.
“It’s going to definitely be a change of scenery,” he said. “I have spent my winters in Nelson, Alberta and Michigan… I have seen plenty of cold and snow. It’s going to be interesting to go to practice and then leave in December when it’s sunny out and you can go golf. I’m looking forward to the experience for sure.”
The Stingrays open the ECHL regular season at the Charleston Coliseum against the Gwinnet Gladiators on October 13.