Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Written by Dave Sottile
When Brett Flemming mapped out his first professional hockey season, Elmira, N.Y., Wheeling, W.Va., Toledo, Ohio, and Kalamazoo, Mich., were not on the itinerary.
After making the Hershey Bears’ opening-night roster as a 20-year-old, the rookie fully expected to play the whole season in the American Hockey League.
But Flemming got caught in a numbers crunch, and the Washington Capitals re-assigned him to the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays on Dec. 30.
Monday afternoon, he was back in central Pennsylvania, scoring a goal and setting up the game-winner as the Rays beat the Reading Royals, 4-3, at Sovereign Center.
“Getting sent down was disappointing, for sure, but it’s my first year of pro hockey,” Flemming said. “Ice time is very important right now.
“If I was still up in Hershey, not getting as many minutes, it wouldn’t be as big of a benefit as it is here getting a lot of minutes on the top defensive pairing in the ECHL.”
Impressing with attitude
The 5-foot-11, 184-pound Flemming tied Monday’s game at 2-2 with a second-period goal. And after South Carolina erased a 3-2 deficit, his left-point blast was deflected into the net by Pierre-Luc O’Brien. The decisive goal came with 5:18 remaining.
“All the guys here have welcomed me with open arms,” said Flemming, who now has a goal and two assists in eight ECHL games. “We have a good bunch of guys, I’m having a lot of fun, and the ice time is really helping me out a lot.”
Spencer Carbery, South Carolina’s head coach and director of hockey operations, has been impressed with Flemming’s attitude since being demoted.
“Brett’s just been tremendous,” Carbery said. “He’s stepped right in and played huge minutes for us in all situations. You see him on our power play, on the penalty kill, and if we’re up a goal with a minute left, he’s out there.
“You can see his skills are elite for our level. He’s going to be a great pro, and he’s a great kid, too. He didn’t come down thinking he was too good to be here or too good for his teammates.”
Flemming will get another shot in Hershey. It’s only a matter of time. Until then, his coach said Flemming will make good use of his ECHL experience.
“Some organizations believe a player should just be in the American League, even if they’re not playing,” Carbery said. “Others believe they need to develop by playing big minutes and improve themselves down the road. I tend to believe that argument.
“Down here, Brett Flemming is playing a ton. He’s learning how to play pro hockey. Is it the AHL level? No, but it’s a good level of hockey, and he’s learning how to be a pro.”
Two other ex-Bears had an impact on Monday’s game. Rays rookie G Philipp Grubauer wasn’t his best, but still stopped 18 shots to earn the victory and raise his record to 15-7-2. And LW Maxime Lacroix assisted on both South Carolina goals that Flemming figured into. Lacroix and Flemming were sent to the Rays on the same day last month.