Pierre-Luc O’Brien landed at the Charleston International Airport early Friday afternoon, hopped into Matt Scherer’s car and headed out for lunch with a couple of old teammates and friends.
The Stingrays organization was going to honor O’Brien and the rest of the 2009 Kelly Cup Championship team later that night during a pre-game ceremony, but O’Brien, who lives in Montreal, was just happy to see his former teammates again.
It didn’t take long for O’Brien and Scherer to fall back into the same old familiar pattern. It had been a decade since the team had been together, but for O’Brien, it was like he'd never left the Lowcountry.
“For me, leaving here and coming back, it’s like I shut down a part of my brain,” said O’Brien, who scored the game-wining goal in Game 7 against Alaska in the Kelly Cup finals. “It seems like yesterday I was here and we were playing Alaska. Ten years ago, we won the Cup, but it seems like it was yesterday. When I jumped into the car with Matt, it was like I’d never left. We were having the same conversations, telling the same stories, the same jokes and giving each other a hard time about the same things from 10 years ago. It seemed like all that happened yesterday.”
Unfortunately for the current Stingrays team, which is battling for a playoff spot in the ECHL’s South Division, the return of the team that captured the club’s last title didn’t bring any good luck. Norfolk captain Domenic Alberga had a goal and two assists as the Admirals defeated the Stingrays 6-3 Saturday night before a crowd of 3,303 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
About a half-dozen members of the Stingrays' last ECHL championship club were on hand for the pre-game ceremony. Video messages from players who couldn't make the trip played before the game. Besides O’Brien and Scherer, Johann Kroll, Nate Kiser and Scott Romfo took part in the ceremonial drop of the puck.
“It’s too bad more guys couldn’t make it, but a lot of the guys are still involved in hockey in some way,” said Scherer, who still lives in Charleston and played six seasons for the Stingrays. “It was a great bunch of guys, you just enjoyed coming to the rink every day and the bond that we had back then continues to this day.”
Several of the former players and coaches from that team are still involved in hockey today. Jared Bednar, the former Stingrays head coach, is in the NHL as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. Cail MacLean, an assistant coach in 2009, is the head coach of the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat, while former forward Spencer Carbery is the head coach of the AHL’s Hershey Bears. Goalie James Reimer, the MVP of the Kelly Cup finals, is a backup goalie in the NHL with the Florida Panthers, while Travis Morin, the team's leading scorer that season, is playing for the AHL’s Texas Stars. Maxime Lacroix was finishing up his season in France.
“It’s no surprise that some of the guys on that team have gone on to great things in hockey,” said O’Brien, who works in real estate in Montreal. “I think that shows you kind of character we had on that team. What they’ve accomplished on different stages on higher stages in hockey is not a surprise. I’m just so proud of them.”
The former players began to reminisce about that playoff run. One highlight was a swimming race between Scherer and Kiser in the hotel pool in Cincinnati.
“I won that one,” Scherer said.
The other highlight was a pre-game speech from MacLean before Game 7 against Alaska. The Stingrays had lost at home in overtime to Alaska in Game 5 before a raucous crowd of 9,000 on Memorial Day weekend. Alaska took Game 6 3-2 in Anchorage, Ala.
The Stingrays gathered at a little baseball field the morning of the game when MacLean launched into an inspirational speech.
“Everyone was down, we’d just lost Game 5 at our place when we could have won it in front of our fans and then lost Game 6 by a goal,” said Kroll, who is a financial adviser in the area. “Cail talks about how we were not out of it and how Game 7 was going to be our finest moment. And he was right. Just thinking about what he said that day gives me chills right now.”
The Stingrays will take on South Division rival Florida in back-to-back games Saturday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (3 p.m.) at the North Charleston Coliseum.