South Carolina Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery knows there was plenty to be proud about this season.
The Stingrays won the ECHL's South Division title - their first division title in more than a decade. The 43 regular season victories were second most in the ECHL's Eastern Conference and the most wins for the franchise since the 2007-08 season.
The Stingrays had 15 free agents called up to the American Hockey League, the most in the ECHL, while Jeff Jakaitis was named the league's goalie of the year and Carbery was named the coach of the year.
All in all a highly successful season by almost anyone's standards.
That's anyone but Carbery.
A week after getting swept by the Wheeling Nailers in the opening round of the Kelly Cup playoffs, Carbery is still stewing over the team's quick ouster in the postseason.
"It was a great regular season, there were a lot of positives and we accomplished a lot of our goals, but at the end of the day, I measure our success by what we did in the playoffs," Carbery said. "I'm a very competitive person. I want to win and I want to bring a championship to our fans, our ownership group and to this community so badly. When we don't win that's frustrating for me."
The Stingrays were 30-10-2 at one point in the season, sporting the best record in the ECHL. A Brabham Cup, given to the team with the best regular-season record, was a realistic possibility in late January. But as injuries and call-ups to the American Hockey League began to take their roll, the Stingrays stumbled down the stretch.
"We were a .500 team in the final two months," Carbery said.
And no matter how successful the team was during the regular season, Carbery said the measure of any hockey team is their performance in the postseason. The Stingrays have not won a playoff game in more than two years, getting swept in four games by Wheeling and Gwinnett the last two seasons.
"I don't care about awards or how many games we won in the regular season," Carbery said. "I mean you have to care about winning because that's how you get into the playoffs, but I care about winning championships. Anything less is a disappointment for me."
In his third season as head coach, Carbery said building a Kelly Cup contender in the ECHL isn't always about getting the top players. The 15 call-ups to the AHL, while good for recruiting top prospects this summer, didn't help the Stingrays during the playoffs.
"It's a real balancing act," Carbery said. "You want guys that are borderline AHL players and are hungry to get to that level. But if you have too many of those kinds of players, like we did this year, they can't help you when the playoffs roll around. It's a double-edged sword."
Since the end of the season, Carbery has been analyzing his recruiting process and trying to think of better ways to build a championship-caliber team.
"You need a core group of guys that are going to be in this league for most of the season," Carbery said. "Then you need those guys that'll be in the American League, but will come back and play when the playoffs start."
Carbery said the Stingrays will consider getting a new affiliation or adding one to their current agreement with the NHL's Boston Bruins and AHL's Providence Bruins.
"I'm open to anything that's going to help this team win a championship," Carbery said. "At the end of the day that's only thing that matters to me."
Carbery has one year left on his current contract and expects to return next season. The last three winners of the league's coach of the year award have gone on to coach in the AHL.
"As far as I know, I'm coming back," Carbery said. "I'm not going to take a job in the American League because it's offered to me. It has to be the right situation for me and my family. When I move up I want to make sure I'm ready for it."