By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – South Carolina coach Jared Bednar has been looking for someone to “quarterback” the Stingrays’ power play all season.
With five games left in the regular season, he might have finally found his man.
Sasha Pokulok, a first-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals, was assigned to South Carolina by the Hershey Bears, the Stingrays’ American Hockey League affiliate, Thursday night and is expected to be in the lineup for Friday’s game with the Mississippi Sea Wolves beginning at 7 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays have played the last five games with just five defensemen. Most teams in the ECHL play with six defensemen in the lineup.
“We’re really excited about having Sasha back with us this season,” Bednar said. “He’s going to be a welcome addition to our blue line. Hershey had too many defensemen, and Sasha wasn’t getting much ice time. The Capitals want him to come down here, work on his game, gets lot of ice time and get his confidence level back up so when he goes back to Hershey he can move right back into the lineup.”
Pokulok, who missed most of last season with a concussion, has played in 44 games with the Bears this season, recording one goal and six assists.
Last season, the 6-5, 233-pound Pokulok had three goals and six assists in 16 games for the Stingrays.
“Sasha gives us a big body on the blue line, but a guy that is very skilled,” Bednar said. “He is a left-handed shot, and that’s something we’ve lacked in the last few weeks on the blue line. He was coming off a concussion when he came here last season and it took him a while to get his legs underneath him. He’s a got nearly a full season at the AHL level under his belt and he’s improved a lot since last season.”
While South Carolina’s power play has been among the ECHL leaders for the past two months, the Stingrays have lacked a true “quarterback” on the blue line. The Stingrays have the league’s fourth-ranked power play, converting at a 20.4 percent.
“I think our power play has been pretty solid the whole season,” Bednar said. “We’ve been running the power play kind of by committee all season. We’ve had some forwards at the point that have done a great job all season. Sasha is certainly a guy that is skilled enough to run our power play, and we think he can help make things happen for us on the blue line.”
With the Bears fighting for a spot in the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs, Pokulok was assigned to the Stingrays in hopes of getting him eligible for next month’s Kelly Cup Playoffs.
A professional player must play in five games with the same ECHL team to be eligible for the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
“The Capitals want all of their prospects involved in as much playoff hockey as possible,” Bednar said. “If Sasha gets his five games in down here, then he’s eligible for the playoffs for both us and Hershey.”