SAN ANTONIO – With 12 players assigned to the 24-man roster just five days before the season opener, and only 11 players returning from last year's squad, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the Rampage heading into the 2019-2020 season.
Two games and two wins later, San Antonio has shown there's plenty to like about the product on the ice.
After notching a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Manitoba Friday night, the Rampage erased a two-goal deficit on Sunday, scoring five straight goals in the second and third periods to upend Tucson and stay perfect on the young season. As a result, San Antonio is currently one of three unbeaten teams atop the Central Division standings.
"Obviously, it's the beginning of the season," said forward Zach Nastasiuk. "We're still trying to get to know each other, and we have a lot of kinks to fix, but two wins is obviously a good start. Every point matters, so we're going to try to win every game. We've got some good players in there, guys that are working for each other out there, and we've shown some good resiliency."
Nastasiuk is one of six players to have tallied two or more points in the first two games. Left winger Nathan Walker currently leads the team in scoring with two goals and an assist, and center Mike Vecchione has recorded a goal in each game as well. Goaltender Ville Husso has been reliable in net, stopping 53 of the 56 shots he's faced. Though the sample size is small, this year's team feels comfortable with their mixture of talent and their mindset.
"I think we're more of a veteran team," said returning forward Jordan Nolan. "Last year we had some older guys and some younger guys, but this year we've brought in some guys in the middle, guys that have been pro a couple years and have been in the league. They know how to win, and they don't get too up and down. I think we've shown a lot of character, and we've played pretty calm."
Some of the early success can also be attributed to St. Louis' Stanley Cup championship run last season, which serves as a reminder that the ultimate goal in hockey isn't so far away.
"It puts a little bit more pressure on everyone because everyone wants to make the team in St. Louis," Nolan said. "They've elevated their game down here, they've brought some good players in and I think the competition is a lot harder. Guys want that call-up, and they're competing internally here."
Thursday afternoon, Nolan was named the 16th team captain in Rampage history by general manager Kevin McDonald and head coach Drew Bannister. Last year, the three-time Stanley Cup winner served as an assistant captain and tallied a team-high 17 goals.
"Jordan is a tremendous leader with a wealth of pro experience," said Bannister. "I know that our leadership group will have the right voice in the locker room and the right attitude on the ice to help us be successful this season. This group will encompass the identity that we want our team to play with this year."
Forward Austin Poganski and defenseman Jake Dotchin will serve as assistance captains during home games, while forward Nathan Walker and defenseman Niko Mikkola will take over the role during away games.
San Antonio returns to the ice at the AT&T Center Friday to host the Chicago Wolves in the first of a two-game series on back-to-back nights at 7 p.m. The Stanley Cup will also be in the building this Saturday for St. Louis Blues Night, giving a few Rampage players the chance to see it for the first time since they won the trophy and celebrated with it.