South Carolina Stingrays open Kelly Cup Playoff series against Kalamazoo
As the team bus pulled out of the parking lot at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., late Sunday afternoon, South Carolina Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery couldn’t help but smile.
Few gave the seventh-seeded Stingrays a chance against Gwinnett, the South Division regular season champions, in their best-of-five Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Not only did the Stingrays beat the Gladiators in four games, they did it in historic fashion, winning the final two games in overtime, including a four-overtime marathon in Game 3.
But as the bus headed down I-85 for Charleston, Carbery’s thoughts began to turn to Kalamazoo, the Stingrays’ opponent in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The best-of-seven series begins today at 7:30 p.m. at Wings Stadium.
Game 2 is Saturday before the series shifts back to the Lowcountry for Game 3 on Wednesday night at the North Charleston Coliseum.
“You don’t get very long to enjoy your victories in the playoffs,” Carbrey said. “Once a series is over, you don’t really get a chance to reflect on it. I did that on the bus. It was great to beat Gwinnett. I’m so proud of the guys in our locker room, but now we’ve got to put that series behind us and focus on Kalamazoo.”
And there’s plenty to worry about with the K-Wings, who advanced to the conference semifinals by eliminating Wheeling in four games.
The K-Wings had the most potent offense in the ECHL this season, scoring a league-high 264 goals. The K-Wings have seven players who had 40 or more points during the regular season, while the Stingrays had just two with only one on their playoff roster. Kalamazoo had 13 players with double-digit goals and had the ECHL’s second-ranked power play at 22.7 percent.
“They have a ton of skill players,” said South Carolina defenseman Zach Tarkir. “It’s not just one line or one guy you have to shut down. If you shut down their top line, the other two are just as good. They like to get up-and-down the ice and create a lot of odd-man rushes.”
The K-Wings are also loaded with playoff experience. Kalamazoo advanced to the Kelly Cup finals a year ago.
“They’ve been through the playoff wars, and that helps any time you go into a series,” said Stingrays captain Matt Scherer. “There are going to be ups and downs during any series, and the team that is the toughest mentally usually moves on to the next round.”
The Stingrays counter with one of the top defensive clubs in the ECHL. Only Alaska allowed fewer goals than the Stingrays (180) during the regular season.
The return of forward Billy Ryan from the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears should bolster the Stingrays offensively. Ryan had nine goals and three assists in 12 games this season with the Stingrays.
“I’m excited to be back and to be in the playoffs,” Ryan said. “I haven’t got a chance to be in the playoffs for a while, so I can’t wait to get out there and play. The guys had a great series with Gwinnett and you can tell they’ve got a lot of confidence going into this series.”
The two teams split their four-game series during the regular season with each team winning two games on the road.
“If we’re going to get to the next round, we’ve got to win at least one game on the road,” Carbery said.
Carbery didn’t travel with the team on the 15-hour bus trip. He and his wife are expecting their first child. Carbery will join the team later today.