By Andrew Miller
Of The Post and Courier staff
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The puck sits in Brad Parsons’ locker stall as a joke, as a reminder and as a memento of what the Stingrays center man went through during the first half of the season.
Parsons had played hockey since childhood, but had never been through a scoring slump like the one he went through during the first three months of the season.
He had been a prolific scorer at Princeton, collecting 30 goals in his final three seasons with the Tigers. Even in a limited role with the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates, Parsons had still managed to score 10 goals in two seasons.
But in his first 30 games with Stingrays in the ECHL, a league considered a step below the AHL, Parsons had yet to score.
He was snakebit.
“The first part of the season was awful for me,” Parsons said. “I hadn’t scored yet. I felt like I was letting everyone down. It was bothering me. I tried not to think about it, but the longer I went without scoring, the harder it was to ignore it.
“It took me a while to get used to playing in this league. I kind of used that as an excuse at first, but after a while I still wasn’t scoring and I started to get a little worried.”
It wasn’t that Parsons wasn’t getting the opportunities to score — he was. And in a strange way that was part of the problem.
“I know when he came down here he probably had pretty high expectations and so did we,” said South Carolina coach Jason Fitzsimmons. “I’d never seen anything like it. To be snakebit like he was must have been frustrating for him.”
Despite the lack of production, Fitzsimmons never lost confidence in Parsons.
“I was never that concerned about Brad, because he was getting the opportunities to score,” Fitzsimmons said. “He was getting two and three golden opportunities a game and he was just not scoring. If he wasn’t getting those opportunities, I would have been concerned.”
Instead of burying Parsons on the bench, Fitzsimmons put him with some of the team’s most skilled players. The players around him flourished and for the first two months of the season, Parsons led the team in assists.
“He sees the ice very well,” Fitzsimmons said. “He knows where everyone is on the ice. He dishes the puck well and drives the net. He’s a smart, smart player. It seemed like everyone I put him with played better. It didn’t seem to matter who I put him with either. If they were on the line with Brad, they started scoring. I said all along, he’s the best player in the league not to have scored a goal.”
Finally, after more than three months and 30 games, Parsons scored against Louisiana.
It was a simple rebound off an Ed Courtenay slap shot. Parsons tapped in the puck for his first goal as a Stingray.
“I was just so relieved that I’d finally scored,” Parsons said. “It felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted off my shoulders.”
NHL veteran Jeremy Stevenson skated across the ice and gave Parsons a huge bear hug. Courtenay was next as the defensemen came in for their congratulatory pats on the back. Parsons had a huge grin on his face as he skated by the bench to tap gloves with the rest of his teammates.
“That was pretty funny, because it seemed like everyone on the team was happier than I was,” Parsons said. “It was good to get that first goal and see everyone’s reaction.
“Everyone was joking around with me, but at the same time they were happy for me. It just makes it a lot easier to take when you’re struggling putting the puck in the net.”
It is a tradition in hockey to give the puck to a player that has scored his first professional goal. Although Parsons had already scored 10 goals at the AHL level, winger Matt Reid collected the puck from the referee and tossed it to Parsons on the bench as a joke.
“Everyone on the team loves the guy and I did it as kind of joke,” Reid said. “I mean, after what he’d been through this season, getting so many chances and not scoring, I felt like he deserved it.”
After the game, Parsons promptly placed the puck in his locker stall where it sits today. He actually uses it as a part of his pre-game ritual for good luck.
“I like to rub the puck on the tape on my stick,” Parsons said. “It’s kind of a superstition, but I do it so the goalie can’t see the puck come off the stick as easily.” Since scoring his first goal, Parsons has flourished offensively. The line of Parsons, Courtenay and Stevenson has become the Stingrays’ top scoring threat.
“I’m so happy to be playing with those two,” Parsons said. “It’s like playing on an AHL line. Jeremy and Eddie played in the NHL, so they bring so much experience and skill to the line. We’ve got a little bit of everything on this line.
“Eddie sees the ice so well and Jeremy works so hard in corners and makes so many things happen for us. It’s fun to be a part of it.”
Parsons has been on a scoring tear of late. In his last 10 games, Parsons has six goals and six assists and he has 30 points this season on seven goals and 23 assists.
“I knew it was just a matter of time,” Fitzsimmons said. “Once he started to score, his confidence level went up and now everything he’s shooting is going in the net. There’s only one guy happier than me that Brad Parsons is scoring and that’s Brad Parsons.”
Parsons’ ambition is to return to Portland and the AHL.
“Obviously, I’d love to be up in the Portland playing in the AHL,” Parsons said. “But the guys on this team are so great. I’m having such a good time playing here. We all hang out together. It’s a great city, a great organization and I honestly believe we’ve got the kind of team, when we’re healthy, to win a Kelly Cup. It’s fun to come to the rink every day.”