Stingrays look to replicate '09 run
It's one of the enduring images from South Carolina's Kelly Cup championship run in 2009.
The vision of Pierre-Luc O'Brien skating down the ice at Sullivan Arena, sliding to his knees in pure celebration mode after scoring the series-clinching goal in the final seconds against Alaska in Game 7 of the Kelly Cup playoffs, is a memory that will be etched in the mind of Stingrays captain Matt Scherer forever.
"It's one of those moments that just stays with you," Scherer said. "I can still see (O'Brien) on his knees and then jumping up and just racing at (former Stingrays defenseman) Brad (Farynuk), jumping into his arms and knocking him down. When I think about the playoffs that year, that image always is the first thing that comes to mind."
It's an image that has stayed with O'Brien and Maxime Lacroix as well. It's also a major reason why O'Brien and Lacroix have returned to the South Carolina Stingrays after a year's absence.
"You don't get many chances to win a championship at any level in any sport," O'Brien said. "Winning the Kelly Cup is something that I'll remember the rest of my life. You form a bond with the guys on that team that'll never be broken. It's an experience that I'll never forget."
O'Brien and Lacroix played vital roles in the Stingrays run at the 2009 ECHL title. Lacroix, who scored 33 goals during the regular season in 2009, led the Stingrays with 13 goals during the playoffs. O'Brien was second on the team with 13 assists during the postseason. The return of O'Brien and Lacroix have many in the Stingrays' locker room bullish on the team's chances of capturing the franchise's fourth ECHL title.
"They know what it takes to win a championship," Scherer said. "Players can talk about what it takes to win a championship, but until they've done it, they really don't know. Pierre and Maxime know what kind of effort it takes, how much blood and sweat and sacrifice it takes to win a championship. They've done it. They know what kind of adversity you face along the way. You can't have too many of those guys in your lineup."
After helping the Stingrays to their third Kelly Cup title in 2009, O'Brien and Lacroix decided to shop their skills to other teams. O'Brien landed in Europe, playing with the Fischtown Penguins in Germany's second division. He had seven goals and 19 assists in 50 games, but the Penguins struggled on the ice.
"It was a great opportunity for me to travel around the world and see different cultures and play hockey," O'Brien said. "It was a chance to make some money, more than you can make here in the ECHL. At first it was OK, but steadily it went downhill as the season went on. I'm glad I did it, but certainly it made me appreciate what I had here with the Stingrays."
Lacroix. a fifth-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2006, nearly signed with the Stingrays last season. But just days before the American Hockey League was to open its regular season, he was offered a two-way contract with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs and the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones.
"Hershey has a lot of depth on their team, and I didn't see myself getting called up if I stayed with the Stingrays," Lacroix said. "I thought I had a better chance of playing in Hamilton and sticking with them for longer."
Lacroix split his time between Hamilton and Cincinnati, playing in 27 and 38 games, respectively. Lacroix played against the Stingrays during the regular season, scoring three times against his former team.
"It was kind of bittersweet playing against the guys again," Lacroix said. "You've got a job to do and you want to play well, but at the same time I still had a lot of friends on the team and the fans were always great to me in Charleston."
Although Lacroix didn't play against the Stingrays in the playoffs, he was in the lineup for 19 games and helped lead the Cyclones to their second Kelly Cup title in three years. It was Lacroix's second straight title.
"Winning another championship was another dream come true," Lacroix said. "Once you win it one time, you want do it again. When we won it here, we clinched it on the road in Alaska. In Cincinnati, we clinched it at home in front of 13,000 fans, and that was a great experience. It's something I'll never forget."
Lacroix wasn't sure what he was going to do this season. Lacroix had already thought about returning to the Stingrays, but when Cincinnati coach Chuck Weber moved on to the AHL, the decision was easy.
"I had a bigger role with the Stingrays than I had with Cincinnati," Lacroix said. "I played a lot on the third line last year. With the Stingrays, I was playing in every situation. I just think it's a better fit for me. If I'm playing well, I'm confident I'll get called up to the American League."
Stingrays head coach Cail MacLean couldn't believe his luck in landing both O'Brien and Lacroix.
"They are both consummate professionals," MacLean said. "To get one would have been a great, but to get them both was more than I could have hoped for. Teams that win championships have great character, and these two are as valuable on the ice as they are off of it.
"Their work ethic, their leadership on and off the ice is second to none. These guys are the foundation for what we're trying to do around here."
Reach Andrew Miller at 937-5599. Check out the Stingrays 'Rays the Roof' blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/stingrays.
Florida at South Carolina
When: Tonight, 7:05 p.m.
Where: North Charleston Coliseum
Records: South Carolina (2-3-0, 4 points); Florida (5-3-0, 10 points).
Radio: WQNT 1450-AM.