I know the South Carolina Stingrays season ended rather abruptly on Friday night for most of you, but, and I realize this will get some pushback, I felt like the team overachieved for most of the season.
To be honest, I thought this was as good a coaching job as I’ve seen from the Stingrays in a while. Maybe since the 2009 championship season.
Considering the talent level the Stingrays had to work with I thought that HC Spencer Carbery and JB Bitner got the maximum amount out of this group of players. Now, I will agree that some of the issues that the Stingrays had from a personnel standpoint were self-inflicted. Some of his signings just didn’t seem to fit the Stingrays defensive system. Guys like Matthew Pistilli, Dylan Clark and Mike Ullrich, who flourished in other more-offensive minded systems, struggled to get going with the Stingrays.
However, the moves that Spencer made to get guys in here that bought into the defense-first mindset paid huge dividends from the middle of January on as their record reflects. Getting goalies Ryan Zapolski, the league’s MVP, and Jeff Jakaitis were brilliant pick-ups.
In the end, however, injuries and the affiliation, doomed the Stingrays during the regular season and in the playoffs.
I ran a story before the playoffs about the 5 Questions the Stingrays had to answer if they were going to make a deep run in the Kelly Cup playoffs.
Here’s recap with my thoughts.
1. Can the Stingrays stay healthy?
The answer to that question was a resounding, no. The Stingrays came into the playoffs limping, and left on life support.
Mike Hamilton (concussion) and Ryan Lowery (concussion) didn’t play the final four months of the season. Cameron Brodie (concussion) and Ryan McGinnis (knee) fell the final week of the regular season. Then Ryan Grimshaw was hurt in Game 2 against the Gladiators. And Luka Vidmar missed the first three games of the series. That’s a huge loss for a team that was built from the net out.
No team could have overcome those injuries.
2. Will the Stingrays get their players back from the American Hockey League?
The Stingrays did get Ryan Button and Alden Hirschfeld back from Providence. Grimshaw was sent down just before the playoffs, but lasted four periods. Button appeared to be disinterested on the ice. It appeared to me that he was counting the days before he’d return to Providence. I thought Hirschfeld had some really good moments, especially in the Game 4.
But Hunter Bishop and Tyler McNeely never returned and those were the top two scorers despite the fact that they missed the last two months of the regular season. That’s a huge void in your lineup in the playoffs when goals are at a premium.
3. Will the Stingrays score enough goals?
The Stingrays scored just six goals in the four games. That’s not good enough.
Without Bishop and McNeely (an no Matt Beca either), the Rays had to put makeshift lines together. There were too many SPHL players on the ice for the Rays in the playoffs. Nothing against those guys, but there was a reason they were not on ECHL rosters when the season began.
Chris Langkow, Robbie Dee, Peter Boyd and Hirschfeld, did the best they could, but to win a Kelly Cup title, you need depth on all three lines.
4. Can the Stingrays special teams get it done in the playoffs?
Really until, Game 4, the Stingrays power play was non-existent. The Rays finished the playoffs converting on 3 of 16 chances for 18.8 percent, which isn’t too bad. But Before Game 4, they converted on just one of 11 chances.
On the flip side, the Stingrays penalty kill is currently last in the league in the playoffs at 60 percent. This was considering a strength of the Rays, whose PK finished second in the regular season.
5. Can the Stingrays goalies hold up under playoff pressure?
This was the one area where I felt like the Stingrays had a huge advantage. With ECHL MVP Ryan Zapolski, and the 2011-12 ECHL Goalie of the Year in Jeff Jakaitis, the Rays should have dominated this match-up.
But give Louis Domingue credit, he got the job done. I didn’t think Domingue (4-0, 1.50 GAA, .947 save percentage) wasn’t very sharp during the series, (he gave up a ton of rebounds) but his numbers speak for themselves.
Zapolski looked out of rhythm from Game 1 and Jakaitis hadn’t played very much down the stretch during the regular-season, so it’s hard to judge him on one start.
So many factors go into winning a championship.
You need to be healthy, you need to get your players back from the AHL, you’ve got to have good goaltending and you need a little bit of luck.
Stingrays got none of that this month.
Just a few more thoughts. …
It was tough talking to Rays captain Kevin Quick after Game 4. He put his heart and soul into the series and this team. I think he was definitely the correct choice for the Rays captaincy and I hope we see him in a Stingrays uniform again next season.
My philosophy on affiliations is that you can’t have enough. Many of you complained about Washington/Hershey affiliation, but now you see the other side of it. Look at Reading. No coincidence they are having a great season. The Stingrays had two Providence contract players on their roster in the playoffs. If I was Spencer Carbery I’d be looking for a second affiliation and maybe even a third if I could get one.
I’ll be interested to see what you guys think?
See you next season,