Cup win for Stingrays will cap historic season

The South Carolina Stingrays celebrate a goal during Game 1 of the Kelly Cup playoffs against the Allen Americans. (Photo by Lauren Lyssy).

It’s been an historic season on the ice for the South Carolina Stingrays.

It began in February and has stretched through the final round of the Kelly Cup playoffs. Over the last four months the Stingrays have set or tied ECHL records for the following:

Most consecutive wins at 23 games.

Most consecutive road wins at 13 games.

Longest shutout streak at 321 minutes and 46 seconds.

Most consecutive wins by a goalie — Jeff Jakaitis — at 15 games.

Most consecutive games without a loss at 23 games.

Tied for most shutouts in a season at 11 games.

Most Kelly Cup road playoff wins at 10 games.

Jakaitis was also named the ECHL’s MVP and goalie of the year.

The Stingrays have tied a league mark with their fourth Kelly Cup Finals appearance this spring. The Stingrays can become the gold standard by which all other ECHL franchises are measured with an historic fourth Kelly Cup title.

By anyone’s standards the 2015 season has been a huge success for the Stingrays.

However, if the Stingrays can’t manage two more wins against the Allen Americans in the Kelly Cup Finals, all those records and all those accolades won’t mean very much. Game 4 of the best-of-seven series is set for Sunday at the North Charleston Coliseum beginning at 7:05 p.m. Game 5 is set for Tuesday at 7:05 p.m.

“It’s the business that we’re in,” said South Carolina Stingrays captain Andrew Rowe. “Most fans, most people only remember which team is hosting the trophy at the end of the season. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. It’s the ultimate goal for every player and every team at the beginning of the season. Your goal is to win a championship. The records are great, we had a great regular season, had an amazing run, but those records can be broken. You win a championship and your name is on the Cup forever.”

A sentiment shared by South Carolina head coach Spencer Carbery, who won a Kelly Cup in 2009 with the Stingrays.

“Yes, we’ve had a great regular season,” Carbery said. “What we’ve accomplished is something that everyone in that locker room can be proud of for the rest of their careers. But everybody in every sport at the beginning of the year is judged on one thing, ‘did they win a championship?’ When you look back on a season as a player or a coach, it’s ultimately defined by what you did in your last game.”

The Stingrays lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1, with an opportunity to capture their fourth league title on home ice. Because of scheduling conflicts, the series is being played under a 3-3-1 format, with the next three games at the North Charleston Coliseum. A Game 6, if necessary, would be played Wednesday night at home. Of the three Kelly Cup titles the Stingrays have won, only the 2001 championship came on home ice.

“I’m not even thinking about winning it at home or in Allen,” Rowe said. “I’m not looking past the first shift Sunday night in Game 4. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. Our focus is on winning Game 4 and nothing else.”

The Stingrays have struggled at home, going just 4-6 at the North Charleston Coliseum during the postseason.

“It’s been such a roller-coaster season and playoffs for us I’d love to win the next two games at home for our fans,” Rowe said. “After what we’ve put them through, they deserve it. They’ve been fantastic all season.”

Veterans like Rowe, who is in his fifth professional season, and goalie Jeff Jakaitis, 31, and defenseman Scott Ford, 35, understand that playoff runs like the Stingrays are currently on don’t come along every season. Rowe and Jakaitis have never been past the conference finals, while Ford played for Dayton in 2007 when the Bombers advanced the Kelly Cup Finals.

“Guys play their entire careers and never get a chance to win a championship,” Carbery said. “Scott got a chance early in his career and he had to wait eight years to get another shot.”

Rowe said it’s been the bond between the players on the current team is as strong as any he’s been on before.

“We’re a really close team on-and-off the ice,” Rowe said. “We’re as close off the ice as we are on it. This is a special group. I think our camaraderie has carried over to the ice all season.”