Stingrays Looking to Win the Weekend and Advance

Posted June 11, 2021

Photo via Michael Wiser / South Carolina Stingrays

The South Carolina Stingrays had work to do to get into the playoffs. With three weeks left in the regular season, the Rays were in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, needing a top-four finish to make the playoffs.

With just six games left, they had moved up one spot. So the Stingrays did what they had done all season: Fight until the end. 

The Stingrays rattled off six straight victories to end the regular season and make the playoffs where the regular season champion Florida Everblades were waiting. 

“I thought our guys did a great job coming together, responding to some adversity throughout the season,” head coach Ryan Blair said. “Being able to clinch before the final game I think was really important for our guys.”

In the final regular season game, the Stingrays welcomed a sellout crowd of 7,375, more than two-and-a-half times larger than the capacity crowd crowd of 2,700 that watched the season opener.

The Rays were going to reward those fans by starting best-of-five series at home. But, due to prior commits the North Charleston Coliseum, which hosted more than 7,00 fans for the regular season finale, was unavailable and the series started at the Carolina Ice Palace. 

In a season that saw games rescheduled due to the pandemic and games canceled due to ice conditions, it was just another thing beyond the team’s control in an unparalleled season.

“You got to roll with the punches,” Dylan Steman said. “We knew what we signed up for playing hockey in a COVID year, that being said, you try to keep it light in the room a little bit. Not that its a joke, but you can’t be too serious when you get thrown off like that.

“Its just another situation you have to deal with and a little more adversity. Hard times can bring people together.”

In the opening game, the home side fell down 2-1 in the third period of only to rally to a 3-2 overtime win. The Rays had been a third period team all season, starting slow but finding their groove as the games on.

“We know we’re never out of the game,” Steman said, adding that it’s “a lot closer” than the typical 1 vs 4 matchup.

Blair did mention how they need to do better at starting on time.

In Game 2, the team once again fell behind as the Everblades stormed out to a 5-0 lead after 40 minutes, with some luck from the posts keeping the Stingrays off the board. Blair made a goalie change between periods and it seemed to spark the team.

The Rays mounted a furious to comeback to cut the score to 5-4 with 10:09 left, but just couldn’t find the tying goal.

“It’s a series. Regardless of how the rest of that Game 2 went, we had to have a never quit attitude and we had to show desperation,” Blair said on his message between the second and third period. “Whether the final score was 8-0, or 5-4 or 6-5 for us, it was a never quit mentality.”

“We all looked at each other and said, ‘We’re better than this. We can fight back,'” Justin Florek said. “It starts with one and two, and we went out there and proved it. [We] fought our way back. But like I said, we dug ourselves too big of a hole.”

Blair also mentioned the need for the team to be better out of the gate.

The teams head to Estero, Fla. knotted at one game apiece knowing all they need to do is win the weekend to advance to the second round. Game 3 of the series is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday, Game 4 at 6 on Sunday and a if necessary Game 5 at 7:30 Monday night. 

“Games 1 and 2 should give our guys some belief that we belong here and that we can find a way to win here,” Blair said. “Whether we’re playing at home, on the road, at the Ice Palace, it doesn’t matter. Its about us and its about our game. We just got to manage the game a little better and not cheat at any point  regardless of the score.

“I believe we can win this series.”