When Nate Kiser drove into the North Charleston Coliseum parking lot on the afternoon before Thanksgiving, the Southgate, Mich., native thought he'd be in the Lowcountry for a month, maybe two at most.

That was nearly six years ago.

Since then, Kiser has played 373 games with the South Carolina Stingrays, helped lead the team to its third Kelly Cup title, become a local entrepreneur and earned a leaguewide reputation as one of the most respected tough guys in the ECHL.

Not bad for a guy who thought he'd be in the area on a short-term basis.

"When I pulled into the parking lot at the coliseum, there was no way I thought this would eventually be my home," said Kiser, who resides in

Hanahan. "I'd never been to South Carolina. I didn't know anything about Charleston. I figured it was South Carolina and I initially thought it was going to be this hillbilly town. The only thing I knew was the weather was going to be nice."

It didn't take long for Kiser to change his mind about Charleston.

"All you had to do was go downtown one time and meet the people and realize this was a great place to live and a great place to play hockey," Kiser said. "Me and my wife fell in love with the place almost immediately."

Kiser figured his stay in the Lowcountry would be temporary after the Portland Pirates, of the American Hockey League, sent the 6-1, 230-pound defensemen to the Stingrays in late November 2004.

"It was the NHL lockout year and I'd signed a two-way deal with Portland," Kiser said. "Portland was loaded with players and I got caught up in a numbers game. My wife and I drove down from Portland, Maine, and it took us something like 23 hours. It was cold and rainy in Portland and 75 degrees when we got here."

Few players in Stingrays history have been as popular with fans or teammates than the muscular, tattoo-riddled Kiser.

"He's a pretty intimidating sight when you first meet him," said Stingrays captain Matt Scherer. "He's big, he's bald and he's got all these tattoos all over his body. When I first got here three years ago, there's no way I would have thought that Nasty and I would become good friends, but he is about as nice of a guy as you'll ever meet. He makes everyone feel welcome that steps into our locker room. If he's your friend, you've got a friend for life."

While Kiser came into the league with a reputation for dropping the gloves, he has become a solid all-around player.

After splitting the first two games of their best-of-five American Conference quarterfinals series with Cincinnati at U.S. Bank Arena, Kiser said he's looking forward to getting back to the North Charleston Coliseum. The Stingrays beat the Cyclones, 3-1, in Game 2 Wednesday night.

"We played one of the best road games in a while in Game 2," Kiser said.

"If we can have that kind of effort here this weekend, I like our chances."

Reach Andrew Miller at apmiller@postandcourier.com and check out the Stingrays 'Rays to Roof' blog at, www.charleston.net/blogs/stingrays.