The Hershey Bears will wear a Caps-themed jersey against the Lehigh Valley...
Stingrays Avoid Being Swept, But Fall in the Semifinals
It’s been a rough year for the South Carolina Stingrays. I don’t say that in an effort to make excuses, but rather to put the team’s accomplishments into perspective. They’ve done well with what they had to work with, and both the players and Head Coach Spencer Carbery have done an admirable job at rolling with the punches.
Let’s be honest – the ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals has seen a soap opera’s share of ups & downs this season. On the good & great side of the spectrum, there have been some fantastic stretches – including a phenomenal road trip in January. When the Capitals & Hershey Bears were dropping like flies, the Stingrays were giving fans of the larger organization something to smile about.
Unfortunately, the second half of the season has not been kind to the 3-time Kelly Cup Champions. Some of it is part & parcel of being an ECHL team. A team expects to be hit with call-ups, and the Stingrays are affiliated with two separate organizations – the Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes. The Bears have made a significant dent this year, with Garrett Mitchell and Matt Pope both moving up to Hershey and not returning (Mitchell was a one & done way back in November; Pope had an extra round trip in there). Nine other players saw action with the Bears, including all three regularly rostered goalies.
So yes, they’ve had their goalies shuffled up & out repeatedly (to the point of having to sign members of the local men’s league to temporary contracts). These things happen, and teams suck it up and deal with it. Added to that is the effects of the injury bug, which has bitten the team badly. David de Kastrozza (14-13-27 in 51 games) and Mike Hamilton (7-12-19 in 25 games) have vanished from the forward lines with season-ending injuries. Capitals prospect Philipp Grubauer – who earned both Rookie and Goaltender of the month honors at various points in the season – missed the weeks leading up to the playoffs with a wrist injury that required surgery.
The fact that they lost their best scorer to an incident of drunken stupidity a weekend before the season ended (Trent Campbell and the Taxi Cab Fiasco) didn’t help.
When the Stingrays made the playoffs, they clinched their berth on the last day of the regular season. After a four game losing streak on the road, they closed out their Southern Swing with a must-win victory that set them up to slide into 7th place. That in and of itself was a great accomplishment for a team that had spent the last several weeks scrambling, but the Stingrays went on to defeat the Gwinnett Gladiators in 4 games (3-1). While doing that, they set a new franchise record with a 4OT victory that lasted 124:19. The win was recorded by goalie Rob Madore, who had signed with the club that morning to compensate for Daren Machesney‘s recall to Hershey.
The semifinals proved less forgiving, but the Stingrays went down fighting. Friday night, they faced elimination by the Kalamazoo Wings in a clean sweep. In response, they rallied and tagged a decisive 4-1 victory, with the assistance of the newly-returned Daren Machesney (who made it to the locker room roughly an hour and a half before puck drop). The respite was brief, and twenty-four hours later the Stingrays now find themselves finished for the season. The lone goal in the final game was courtesy of Brett Flemming, a rookie defenseman and Caps prospect.
When a team is eliminated from the post-season race, the first instinct is to look back and say “What if?” Players ask themselves what they could have done differently, observers are blessed with perfect hindsight, and the grieving process winds its way through the annals of anger and denial and bargaining. But on the far side of that is acceptance, and perhaps more importantly, the chance to appreciate what was accomplished over the course of the now closed season.
For the 2011-2 South Carolina Stingrays, fluid though their makeup might have been, there’s a lot to be proud of.
Credit Where It’s Due: Congratulations to the Kalamazoo Wings, who advance to the ECHL’s EC Finals. They had a fantastic showing in the second round. Their next game will be Friday, against the Florida Everblades.
Condolences: We’ve mentioned it before, but our sympathies to fans of the ECHL’s Chicago Express. The franchise was officially shut down one year after its inception.