South Carolina Stingrays coach Cail MacLean could see the potential on the ice. If given another week, the second-year coach was confident the Stingrays could have made a deep run into the Kelly Cup playoffs this spring.
But the Stingrays had only one day to prepare for Wheeling, and the Nailers eliminated the Stingrays in four games during the best-of-five Eastern Conference playoff series on Saturday night.
It was a disappointing end to a roller-coaster season for the Stingrays.
"I felt like when the playoffs started that we'd get better with each game," MacLean said. "I think our best games of the series were Games 3 and 4 and I could tell we were starting to put things together. I felt like if we could get out of the Wheeling series, we could make a run at another Kelly Cup. We had a lot of the pieces of the puzzle in place."
The problem was the pieces of the puzzle didn't come until after the regular season was over. A day before the start of the playoffs, the Stingrays received defenseman Dylan Yeo and forwards Brock McBride and David de Kastrozza from the American Hockey League. Yeo and de Kastrozza had been with the Stingrays off and on early in the season.
McBride's first game in a Stingrays uniform was Game 1 of the series. McBride led the Stingrays with four points on two goals and two assists during the series.
"We were never able to develop any continuity in our lineup for the playoffs," MacLean said. "I would have liked to have had Brock for that last week of the regular season, so he could have developed some chemistry with his linemates and been able to learn our systems a little better. He was an impact player for us as it was and really had no time to settle into our lineup."
MacLean said the Stingrays were a consistently, inconsistent team during the regular season.
The Stingrays finished the regular season 37-29-6 (80 points) good enough for second place in the South Division and fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Stingrays were 26-14 from Thanksgiving until the end of February for a .650 winning percentage. The Stingrays staggered home, winning just five times in their final 15 games, which included a nine-game winless streak at home.
"What you try and do during the regular season is create good working habits and make it into the playoffs. With all the players going up and down between our league and the American League, it's tough to judge a team on just wins and losses because your lineup is always changing. You just hope that all your players are back for the playoffs."
The Stingrays' special teams were an issue all season. The Stingrays were 18th on the power play, converting at just 15.5 percent and 13th on the penalty kill at 81.1 percent. The trend continued in the playoffs as the Stingrays converted on just one of 18 power-play chances and gave up a power-play goal in each to the Nailers.
"We talked a lot about special teams all season and watched a lot of video," MacLean said. "We just didn't get the job done on special teams like we should have. I think we underachieved all the way around. It's something we're going to evaluate over the summer."
MacLean is in the final year of his contract and said he has every intention of returning for the 2011-12 season.
"My plan is to be back," MacLean said. "I still think there's some unfinished business here."