(Photo by Caps Outsider) Washington area sports fans are walking pretty tall...
Good Times to Be Found at a Stingrays Game
Few Capitals fans will ever have an easy option when it comes to attending a South Carolina Stingrays game. The ECHL team is one level below the AHL’s Hershey Bears, and based about 500 miles from Washington. The closest they ever come to the nation’s capital is Reading, PA – a locale that they visited twice this season. But South Carolina residents, far removed from Verizon Center and even further from Giant Center, have found a fun and exciting glimpse of the hockey world at North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays were Summerville resident Denise Seymour’s first introduction to hockey, and it clearly made a good impression: She’s been a season ticket-holder for ten years. “It’s awesome. I love it. They’ve always done good for us. Only one year they didn’t make the playoffs. Watching them win the Kelly Cup in 2000-2001 was the best.”
Operating in a relatively small market makes a close relationship with the community a necessity for the Stingrays, and it’s something that the team does well. Home games actively work to present a family-friendly atmosphere, ticket prices are kept affordable, and theme nights are even more common than they are up in Hershey (Green Ice! Pink Ice! Bike Night!). For smaller fans, not only do the team’s two mascots regularly make the rounds, but there’s a moonbounce located on the concourse. As with Hershey, one of the benefits to a tightly knit fan community is the opportunity for local groups to take turns performing the national anthem – last Friday, it was a middle school choir.
Like Hershey, the Stingrays have won their fair share of championships: Three Kelly Cups in the franchise’s 19 seasons, with the latest victory coming in 2008–09.
The Stingrays also have a history of flashy names passing through, serving as a farm team for two separate AHL teams (and, by extension, their NHL clubs as well). From the Hershey-and-Washington side of things, recent names getting their professional starts with the ‘Rays have included Michal Neuvirth & Braden Holtby. They also have ties to the Charlotte Checkers (and, by extension, the Carolina Hurricanes).
Currently, they’re home to one of the year’s “Golden Goalies” and two “Silver Skaters” (fan-voted awards that the league is bestowing in lieu of an All Star Game this year). German netminder (and Washington Prospect) Phillipp Grubauer is considered one of the league’s best goaltenders, and many vocally advocate his readiness for the AHL. Had it not been for the signing of veteran Tomas Vokoun in Washington, it’s very likely Grubauer would be a regular fixture in chocolate town this year. Charleston certainly isn’t complaining about the delay, though they’re used to seeing their best players bounce up and down as the domino effect of call-ups and injuries takes their toll. Right now, three Stingrays’ forwards are currently playing with the Bears: Daniel Koger (F), Maxime Lacroix (F), and Matt Pope (F).
If you’re looking for more convincing, wander over and take a look at Five Reasons We Love the ‘Rays.