By Andrew Miller
Of The Post and Courier Staff
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – A year ago, Jeremy Stevenson made $400,000 playing in the National Hockey League for the Nashville Predators.
Starting this week, Stevenson, a veteran of 156 NHL games, will make, well, significantly less money playing in the ECHL for the South Carolina Stingrays.
But Stevenson, 30, couldn’t care less. He’s just glad to be back on the ice playing hockey. Stevenson and Jason Bonsignore, another former NHL player, signed Monday with the Stingrays and will join the team for Tuesday’s game in Augusta against the Lynx.
With the NHL lockout still firmly in place and no end in sight, Stevenson was itching to get back on the ice.
“I love the game,” Stevenson said in a telephone interview from his home in Canada. “I’ve played every winter since I was five and I miss it. I miss playing. I miss hanging out with the guys and just playing. I played in a men’s league a couple of times a week, but it’s not the same. I needed to get back to playing competitive hockey.
“I’ve been running and riding a bike a lot to stay in shape, but the only way to stay in hockey shape is to skate and I’m not getting enough time on the ice right now. I needed to get back into it.”
Stevenson had plenty of other offers, but considered the Stingrays his best option.
“I could have gone to Europe for more money, but I didn’t want that much distance between me and my family,” Stevenson said.
With injuries to Ed Courtenay (rib) and Trevor Johnson (leg), Stingrays coach Jaosn Fitzsimmons had two veteran spots open on the roster. The Rays will also be without Kevin Spiewak (foot) and defenseman Aaron Power (foot) on Tuesday.
“Ed is out at least a week and Trevor won’t be back until January,” Fitzsimmons said. “There’s no doubt we needed some help. We’ve got six guys out of the lineup with call-ups and injuries.”
Fitzsimmons was especially pleased to land Stevenson.
“He’s a guy a lot of teams wanted,” Fitzsimmons said. “He’s one of those guys that was caught in the lockout that just loves the game and wants to play and stay in shape. He’s a crasher. He has a lot of grit to his game. He makes his living in the corners and out-working everyone. He’s exactly what this team needs right now.”
Stevenson played in 56 games last season for Nashville and Minnesota. In 53 games with the Predators, he scored five goals and added four assists. In 156 career NHL games, Stevenson has 30 points on 14 goals and 16 assists.
Stevenson already has some ECHL experience, playing in 17 games with Greensboro during 1994-95. He had six goals and 11 assists in 17 games for the Monarchs.
Stevenson joins a growing list of NHL players who are making a home in the ECHL this season. Scott Gomez (Alaska), Curtis Brown (San Diego) and Eric Boulton (Columbia) are all playing in the ECHL this season.
“I think you’re probably going to see a lot more NHL guys come down here and play,” Stevenson said. “I think it’s a great league. There’s not a lot of travel compared to some of the other leagues. South Carolina was one of the top franchises when I played in the ECHL 11 seasons ago and they’re still one of the best now.”
Bonsignore, a former first round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 1994, played in five games for the Stingrays last season, scoring two goals and adding five assists. He signed with a team in Belgium after Christmas and had 12 points on nine goals and three assists in nine games.
“Jason is looking to get into shape, so we don’t expect him to stay here too long,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’ll have him for four games. After that, who knows? But he’ll be in the lineup this week. Jason proved last season that he can be a force in this league.”