Because space was limited in the newspaper this morning, my Q&A with Rays HC Spencer Carbery was cut a little bit.
Here’s the full, unedited version of it (there might be some typos):
The South Carolina Stingrays finished sixth in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference with a 38-26-8 mark. The Stingrays made the Kelly Cup playoffs for an ECHL record 19th time during the 2012-13 season, but were swept in the first round by Gwinnett in four games. Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery talks about the Stingrays season that was with the Post and Courier’s Andrew Miller.
It’s been two weeks since the season end. You’ve had time to digest what happened. What are your overall thoughts on the year?
“I was very disappointed in the way the season ended against Gwinnett. But I don’t want it to be negative because I’m proud of the way the guys battled all season. I feel like we got the maximum out of the guys we had in our locker room. These guys put so much effort, energy, will and determination into the season. It’s not the way we wanted the season to end, but we got every ounce of ability out of them. It just didn’t end well.”
The retirement of Matt Scherer, Pierre-Luc O’Brien and Johann Kroll didn’t help with the transition for such a young team?
No, it didn’t. You look around the league and you see teams that get off to a good start and a lot of times it’s because they’ve got veteran guys that have played together before. Greenville is a classic example of that. It’s not true that we didn’t offer those guys contracts. They were all offered contracts.”
Why do you think that things didn’t work out here for guys like Shawn Weller, Dylan Clarke, Matt Pistilli and Mike Ullrich?
“I have a system when I recruit. I call a certain amount of coaches, a certain amount of players that have played with them and scouts. The more research you do, the more accurate you feel about the player. With that being said, I haven’t seen Shawn Weller play. I haven’t Dylan Clarke or Matt Pistilli play. For whatever reason, Matt Pistilli and Dylan Clarke didn’t fit into our locker room. They are not bad guys, they just didn’t fit with the guys we had in our locker room. It happens.”
They struggled here, but how do you explain Pistilli’s and Clarke’s success with other teams?
“It happens in sports all the time. In football, basketball, baseball, a guy gets a fresh start and things work out. We knew that Dylan and Matt could score in this league, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t here. We Dylan to Evansville and he finished the year strong. During my meetings with the players and with (Stingrays assistant coach) JB (Bitner) at the end of the season we talked about what we could have done different with Dylan or Matt. We want guys to be successful here.”
What happened with Shawn Weller? He was your captain and you ended up trading him?
“We have a zero tolerance for off-the-ice incidents. You don’t get second chances for stuff like that. There was an off-ice incident and we have a zero tolerance policy, so we had to make the trade. We get Cam Brodie and we’ve got great futures from Stockton.”
Do you think your style of play is too defensive?
“No. Everyone wants to score goals. With the players we had, we thought we could score goals at a high level. Do we ask that players to be responsible in our defensive zone, absolutely. But the make-up of our team changed midway through the season with call-ups and injuries. When that happened, I had to figure out a system that would let us win games. Not how are we going to score six goals a game, but how are we going to win. That’s my job. We had to change some of our systems to fit the talent we had. Since the 2007-08 season, we’ve been in the top-five in the league in goals against. This year we were first. We were 17th and 18th the last two years in goals scored. Look at the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup and were second in the league in goals against and 28th in goals scored. Pittsburgh and Boston were first and second in the NHL in goals scored, but didn’t get past the first round of the playoffs. I would love to have a team score five goals a game. We didn’t have that kind of make-up this season and ultimately, defense wins championships.”
What happened in the playoffs against Gwinnett?
“For the last two or three months of the season we were in do or die games every night. It was like being in the playoffs for three straight months. We pushed this team as hard as we could push them and I’d be lying if that didn’t take a toll on the team. We were the best team in the league post-lockout. I think once we made the playoffs, we relaxed. But if we didn’t push the team like we did the final three months, then we don’t make the playoffs.”
So you guys were tired?
“That was certainly part of it. But there were other issues. We didn’t have a playoff-tested team. We basically had two guys that had played in the ECHL playoffs – Chris Langkow and Kevin Quick. Then four defensemen basically don’t play in the series against Gwinnett – Cam Brodie, Luka Vidmar, Ryan Grimshaw and Ryan McGinnis. Then we don’t get Tyler McNeely, Hunter Bishop or Matt Beca back from the American League. That’s a lot of talent sitting up in the stands or playing in the AHL. That’s not an excuse. I’ll never make excuses, but that’s what happened.”
Do you recruit differently going into the next year?
“Yes. We need more skill up front. There’s no doubt about that. We’ll address that next season, no question about it. I think the nucleus of players we’ve got coming back for next season – Hunter Bishop, Kevin Quick, Tyler McNeely, Chris Langkow – is exactly the kind of people and players we want. I’m excited about it.”
Were you guys tough enough?
“There are two kinds of toughness in my opinion. You can drop the gloves and that’s one kind of toughness. Our guys asked Gwinnett to fight a dozen times during the series and it never happened. If they’re not going to answer the bell, then we’ve got the make life for their skill guys miserable and we didn’t do that. That’s the other kind of toughness. That’s physical play and we didn’t do that enough. We should have been the more physical team during the series and we were not.”
So you didn’t feel like you got pushed around this year?
“The game of hockey is going away from fighting. The game wants a guy like Tyler Randell to be able to play hockey. There just isn’t the number of fights in the league as there have been in the past. It’s going out of the game for better or worse. You know, Nate Kiser had like five fights his last season. You have to have guys can play a regular shift. Very few teams in the league have a guy who all he does is fight. Gwinnett, Cincinnati, Florida and Reading don’t have a guy like that and they’re still playing in the playoffs.”
So, fighting isn’t as important as it used to be?
“It’s a legitimate question. I know fans want to see the fighting element in hockey. I get that. The game of hockey is going away from fighting. Fans have to ask themselves, do they want to see a winning team or see the physical side of the game? If the fans say they want to see the fighting, I don’t have a problem with that, but my job is find ways to win. I want 70 fighting majors, but gone are the days when you can have three dummies on your team and win in this league. You have to have guys like Nate Kiser that can play a regular shift and drop the gloves when asked. I know that’s frustrating for some fans.”
You had only two contract players from Providence here during the playoffs. Are you thinking about getting another affiliation?
“I expected to have more help from our affiliation. It’s something that we’ll talk about this summer. To be successful in this league you need to have a strong affiliation and have multiple players because of the salary cap. We had 127 affiliated games this season. A year ago, we had 386 affiliated games. In 2008-09 when we won the Kelly Cup we had 364. We’re certainly looking at adding another affiliation or finding another way to add more AHL contracted players.”