By Andrew Miller
Of The Post and Courier Staff
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Kevin Spiewak races down the left wing, bent at the waist, the puck on his stick, legs churning, eating up the ice like it’s a scorching-hot July afternoon.
The Florida defenseman continues to give ground, backing up as quickly as his skates will allow, but running out of room as the former North Dakota star reaches full speed.
Just as Spiewak enters the Everblades’ defensive zone, the defenseman realizes his attempt to keep up with the Stingrays’ rookie is futile. He reaches out and tries to grab Spiewak around his neck, but gets nothing but air. Out of desperation, he dives at Spiewak’s skates hoping to trip him or at least knock the puck away, but by this time it’s too late.
Left with no protection, Florida goalie Rob Zepp is virtually helpless as Spiewak skates in untouched and scores with a wrist shot.
It’s vintage Spiewak.
“There are guys who are fast skaters, but they’re not very fast with the puck,” South Carolina coach Jason Fitzsimmons said. “Kevin is just as fast with the puck as he is without it, and that’s what makes him so dangerous.
“Kevin is probably the fastest player we’ve had in a Stingrays uniform since Rob Concannon. He’s the fastest skater I’ve seen in the ECHL in a couple of years.”
Spiewak proved that Fitzsimmons’ comments were not just idle talk at this year’s ECHL All-Star game. Spiewak easily won the fastest skater competition at the event, beating the next closest competitor by almost a half-second.
“Kevin can skate with anybody,” Fitzsimmons said. “He’s as fast as anyone in the NHL.”
Indeed, Spiewak’s time of 14.166 seconds would have placed him fourth in the NHL’s fastest skater competition last week.
At 5-10 and just 180 pounds, Spiewak knows there’s no substitute for speed.
“I take a lot of pride in my skating ability because it’s what has gotten me where I am in hockey,” Spiewak said. “It’s really the only way I can survive out there. If a bigger, stronger defenseman grabs me, it’s over, I’m not going anywhere.”
Spiewak has utilized that speed to become one of the top rookies in the ECHL this season. In 49 games, Spiewak is tied for eighth among first-year players in the league in scoring with 40 points on 16 goals and 24 assists.
“He’s been everything we expected and more,” Fitzsimmons said. “He plays in every situation ñ even strength, power play, penalty kill in overtime. He logs a lot of ice and he deserves it. He’s a good all-around player.”
He might be the best South Carolina rookie since Adam Calder and Dave Seitz. “He might be better than those guys, the season isn’t over yet,” Fitzsimmons said.
Much like Calder, another North Dakota product, Spiewak wasn’t considered to be much of a scoring threat coming out of college. Spiewak was known more for his defensive prowess than his scoring touch.
“This is a big scoring year for me,” Spiewak said. “I usually have more assists than goals. I was used mainly as a defensive center in college. I was on the penalty kill all the time.”
Spiewak has played so well this season that Fitzsimmons is surprised that he has been in the ECHL all season.
“He’s got the talent to play in the American Hockey League,” Fitzsimmons said. “I just think some (general managers) at that level take one look at his size and think he can’t compete up there. I know he can.”
Spiewak played briefly at the end of last season for Portland of the AHL, scoring two goals in six games for the Pirates.
“I went to the Detroit camp and I thought I’d get sent down here, get used to pro hockey, then get called back up,” Spiewak said. “But I went into a slump at the beginning of the season and that has kind of held me back. It’s frustrating, but I’m going to keep plugging away at it and see what happens.”