Stingrays Playoff Preview: Rocky Mountain Finals

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Posted May 25, 2017

(Joe Devin, courtesy Sarah Hobday)

The South Carolina Stingrays are one of the premier members of the ECHL, winning three of the league’s championships across their 24 seasons. They finished third in the South Division, defeating the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, Florida Everblades, and Manchester Monarchs to make their fifth Kelly Cup Finals.

The Colorado Eagles won two Ray Miron President’s Cup in the Central Hockey League before jumping to the ECHL in 2011, weeks after losing in the Finals to Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs. Colorado, ECHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche, advanced to the conference finals for the first time in their ECHL tenure with wins over the Idaho Steelheads and two-time defending champion Allen Americans. They knocked out the Toledo Walleye in five games to make the Finals.

In their six-game regular season series, Colorado came to, and then welcomed, South Carolina for three games. After Colorado won the first two games, South Carolina came back and won the third each time. The Stingrays rattled off win streaks, including a six-game streak in March, after the series with the Eagles.

COLORADO EAGLES

With Alex Belzile on the wing and Matt Register at the blue line, Colorado barreled into the postseason with big expectations set on them. After dispatching the Steelheads in five games, the Eagles did what no other team could do the last four years and sent the Allen Americans home without a championship. In six games.

Belzile leads all skaters with 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists) in the playoffs. Register leads all defensemen with 20 points, including six goals. After Jake Marto’s 15 points, three Eagles have 11 points (rookies Julien Nantel and Ryan Harrison, and Casey Pierro-Zabotel).

Belzile also sits second behind Mason Geertsen (34) for penalty minutes with 32. Darryl Bootland, a pest to South Carolina through the six games, is third with 30.

Rookie goaltender Lukas Hafner won all five of the games against the Steelheads. Kent Simpson, who started the game one loss, finished out the series with the Americans. Simpson made 23 saves in the clincher, then earned the start against Toledo. After the Eagles lost, head coach Martin Lind went right back to Hafner.

Hafner held Toledo at bay in one-goal contests for games two through four. Game four went three overtimes until Matt Grabowsky scored. After Hafner’s 103 minute night, Simpson got the start for the next night’s series-ending game.

Hafner holds a .896 save percentage in 12 games, while Simpson has a .879 percent mark in four games.

Teigan Zahn had 17 fights in the ECHL regular season, with one coming against South Carolina strongman Trevor Gillies in March. Zahn played the role of agitator and enemy with the Stingrays contests.

SOUTH CAROLINA STINGRAYS

Rob Flick was held to a limited role when the Eastern Conference Finals shifted to Manchester, but his 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) is third among all skaters in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. He got split from Steven McParland and John Parker at SNHU Arena, but the Monarchs defense latched onto him.

The Stingrays’ penalty kill unit is minus two regulars to start this series: forward Patrick Gaul and defenseman Danny Federico. Gaul, a third-line regular, has yet to play since the Everblades series with an injury. Federico took a big hit in the third period of game seven against Manchester, and did not return for the end. Federico did, however, come on the ice for the team picture, as did the scratches.

South Carolina has used a similar pattern in all three prior series: lose one or two games, win three or more in a row and take the series.

Domenic Monardo is second on the Stingrays in scoring (18 points) thanks to his 12 helpers. Olivier Archambault, with seven goals and assists, played big games at big moments. His two goals pushed the Stingrays over the Monarchs to win the decisive seventh game.

Wade Epp, a mainstay penalty killer, is the top blue-liner in scoring with one goal and seven assists. Him and Cody Corbett  had their minutes increased with Federico leaving game seven early.

Except for a three minute stretch Adam Carlson played during a blowout loss in game six, Parker Milner has played every minute for the Stingrays. Out of qualified goalies, Milner is sixth overall at .920 save percentage, a .024 increase from Hafner’s numbers.

Trevor Gillies, except for a few games against the Florida Everblades, has largely been held out of the lineup in favor of Scott Tanski.

SERIES SCHEDULE

Game 1 – South Carolina at Colorado – Friday, May 26 at 9:05 p.m.
Game 2 – South Carolina at Colorado – Sunday, May 28 at 9:30 p.m.
Game 3 – Colorado at South Carolina – Sunday, June 4 at 7:05 p.m. (Round 4, Game A)
Game 4 – Colorado at South Carolina – Monday, June 5 at 7:05 p.m. (Round 4, Game B)
Game 5* – Colorado at South Carolina – Wednesday, June 7, at 7:05 p.m. (Round 4, Game C)
Game 6* – South Carolina at Colorado – Friday, June 9 at 9:05 p.m.
Game 7* – South Carolina at Colorado – Saturday, June 10 at 9:05 p.m.
*if necessary