Cincinnati Cyclones vs. South Carolina Stingrays
Records: Cincinnati 29-19-2 (60 points); Stingrays 31-14-4 (66 points)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: North Charleston Coliseum
Peter Boyd would watch his teammates pack their hockey gear and say their goodbyes.
One by one, his teammates would throw their belongings into a hockey bag, go around the locker room and shake hands before heading out the door with their tickets punched to the American Hockey League.
The South Carolina Stingrays forward was happy see his friends get one step closer to their dreams of playing in the NHL.
But there was a part of Boyd, deep down, that couldn't help but be a little envious. He wondered when he would get the call. When it would be his turn to play at the next level.
After his senior season at Ohio State in 2011, Boyd got a brief taste of the AHL, playing in 11 games for the Lake Erie Monster.
He spent most of his first two seasons of professional hockey in the ECHL with Bakersfield and the Stingrays. Despite scoring 39 goals and recording 79 points in 110 games over his first two seasons in the ECHL, the call from the AHL never came.
This past summer, he thought about going overseas and trying his luck in Europe.
"I was putting up some pretty good numbers in the ECHL, but it seemed like no one took notice in the American League," Boyd said. "You can make some pretty good money in Europe and I thought maybe I would give it a try over there and see what happened."
Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery convinced Boyd to stay in North America for one more season.
"I really felt like Peter had a legitimate shot at getting called up to the American League," Carbery said. "There's no question he is a dynamic player in the ECHL. His speed, his hands, his shooting are all AHL-caliber. He's a little undersized, but he certainly has the skill set to play in the AHL."
Carbery recruited a deep lineup this season with several players having extensive AHL experience. A year ago Boyd had been one of the Stingrays' top forwards, but now found himself in a reduced role.
"I kept telling Peter to be patient," Carbery said. "There's going to be a lot of turnover and eventually he'd get his chance."
As the wins started to pile up for the Stingrays, players began leaving for the AHL. At first it was just a trickle, a player here and there, until finally it became a flood and the Stingrays had nearly a dozen players called up.
Still, Boyd's phone remained silent.
"That was tough," Boyd said. "You begin to doubt that you'll ever get called up. I was happy for the guys going up, but I wanted to be up there as well."
As players began to leave for the AHL, Boyd's ice time began to increase. He went from the third line to the first line and saw him power play time increase. The most ice time he got, the more he produced.
In 45 games, Boyd has 43 points and a team-leading 17 goals and 26 assists. For weeks, Boyd carried the Stingrays on his back offensively.
"He can take over a game," Carbery said. "There were probably five or six games straight where there was no question he was the best player on the ice for us. He took over. It was fun to watch."
Finally, Boyd got the call he'd been waiting for all season. Bridgeport, which already had former Stingray teammates Scooter Vaughan and Chris Langkow on their roster, called Boyd.
"It was exciting," Boyd said. "I felt like all the hard work had finally paid off."
He spent three games with the Sound Tigers, but as their injured players began returning, Boyd knew he would eventually be sent back down to the Stingrays.
It didn't matter.
"It was a numbers game, they had to keep their contract guys, I understood," Boyd said. "I felt like I belonged up there."
And he plans on going back.
"It just makes you work that much harder, knowing you're that close," Boyd said. "I'm not going to worry about things I can't control. I can only go out and play as well as I can and be the best player I can be. If I do that, the other stuff will take care of itself."