South Carolina Stingrays: What might have been this season

The South Carolina Stingrays goalie Philipp Grubauer eyes the pluck after he blocked Florida Everblades shot on goal in the teams' match up Dec. 31, 2011 at the North Charleston Coliseum. (Tyrone Walker/postandcourier.com)

South Carolina Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery was met during the second intermission of Saturday night’s Game 5 against the Kalamazoo K-Wings by a half-dozen guys at the team’s locker room door.

Carbery could only shake his head and wonder what might have been had the six players been in a Stingrays uniform and not in business suits.

Injuries and call-ups are a part of life in the ECHL, but the Stingrays had as much talent in the stands during the playoffs as they did on the ice.

David de Kastrozza, Mike Hamilton and Philipp Grubauer all missed the final month of the regular season with injuries. Throw in Trent Campbell, who was suspended the last week of the season, Sean Dolan, Matt Pope, Greg Stewart and Paul Baier and a huge chunk of the Stingrays’ lineup was missing during the Kelly Cup playoffs.

“You can’t use that as an excuse,” Carbery said. “That’s just business as usual in the ECHL. The team that has most of their players available during the playoffs is normally the team that makes a run at a Kelly Cup.”

The loss of Grubauer, who made the ECHL’s All-Rookie team at goalie, probably hurt the Stingrays the most during the postseason. Grubauer, who went 23-13-5 during the regular season, had season-ending hand surgery in March.

“Losing Phillip was tough because he had been such a dominant goalie for us all season,” said Stingrays captain Matt Scherer. “He was the kind of goalie that could cover up a lot of mistakes.”

The Stingrays (37-28-7) finished fourth in the ECHL’s South Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference. They needed to beat Greenville twice in the final weekend of the season to even qualify for the playoffs for a league-record 18th time.

The Stingrays upset second-seeded Gwinnett, 3-1, in the best-of-five Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which included a quadruple-overtime marathon win over the Gladiators in Game 3.

“We got every ounce of effort from the guys in the Gwinnett series,” Carbery said. “I was really proud of the way they played.”

A playoff-hardened K-Wings team, the defending Eastern Conference champions, dispatched the Stingrays in five games in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals.

“We ran into a very good team,” Carbery said. “I learned a lot this season about building and recruiting a team. There’s a lot more involved in putting a team together than I had first thought, but it was a great experience. I can’t wait for next year.”

The future of players like Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Scherer, Johann Kroll, Zach Tarkir and Maxime Lacroix — all players who were on the Stingrays’ last Kelly Cup championship team in 2009, is uncertain.

“I’m not going to make an emotional decision right now,” O’Brien said.

“I’m going to take some time, talk to my family, and then make a decision.”