There’s a part of Spencer Carbery that would like nothing better than to lace up his skates and take the ice one more time Sunday afternoon in Allen, Texas, for Game 7 of the Kelly Cup Finals.
At 33, Carbery is one of the youngest head coaches in professional sports and is still probably fit enough to get back on the ice for one game. And if there was one game that Carbery would come out of retirement for, it would be a Game 7 that would determine a league championship.
After nearly nine months, 72 regular-season and 26 Kelly Cup playoff games, the South Carolina Stingrays’ season has come down to one final effort — Game 7.
The Stingrays will take the ice against the Allen Americans in Game 7 of the Kelly Cup Finals on Sunday beginning at 5:05 p.m. at the Allen Event Center in Allen Texas. The winner will take home the Kelly Cup Trophy.
If the Stingrays manage to win, it would be the franchise’s ECHL-record fourth Kelly Cup title. This will be just the fourth Game 7 in Kelly Cup Finals history.
Carbery has already played in a similar scenario when he was a rugged winger for the Stingrays in their 4-2 victory over the Alaska Aces in Game 7 in 2009. That was the Stingrays’ third and most recent Kelly Cup championship.
“To be able to play in a winner-takes-all for the ultimate prize is a pretty special opportunity,” Carbery said. “A lot of guys can go through their entire careers and never get an opportunity to win a championship. But very few guys get to play in a winner-take-all Game 7 for a championship. Hardly anybody in any sport gets that opportunity. It gives me goose bumps just to think about it. I’m jealous. I’m envious. I remember how I felt going into Game 7 against Alaska, so I know how these guys are feeling. I know how Allen is feeling. They can’t wait to get on the ice and play.”
The Stingrays certainly haven’t taken the most direct path to get to this point. Game 7 will be the Stingrays’ 27th playoff game, which will set an ECHL record for most games in a postseason. They’ve already played in two Game 7s — against Reading and Toledo — during their two-month long playoff run. Throw in the nine overtime games, which totaled more than 181 minutes, and the Stingrays have played the equivalent of 29 postseason games. Between games in Reading, Penn., Estero, Fla., Toledo, Ohio, and Allen, Texas, the Stingrays have traveled more than 5,500 miles, racked up more than 100 hours on buses and planes, and have incurred more than $100,000 in travel expenses.
They haven’t always made it easy on their head coach.
“They’ve certainly made it exciting,” Carbery said with a chuckle. “They haven’t taken the easy path, but I think that’s what has made this journey so enjoyable. It’s been that way all season, even when we got on that run in February and March. We seem to enjoy making things difficult. But I think that has defined who we are as a team.”
Having played in a Game 7 once during his career, Carbery said he shouldn’t have to give any emotional pre-game motivational speeches before the Stingrays take the ice on Sunday.
“Everyone who is going to play in this game knows how important it is and what’s at stake,” Carbery said. “I think everyone is so ready to compete that I won’t have to say a word. I’ll remind them about making smart, simple plays and keeping their emotions in check. Those are things that I remember about playing against Alaska in 2009. Other than that, I’m not going to have to say a whole lot.”
For veterans like goalie Jeff Jakaitis and defenseman Scott Ford, the opportunity to play for a championship has been a long time coming. Jakaitis, 31, and Ford, 35, have impressive resumes, but have never won a championship. Jakaitis is the reigning ECHL MVP and the league’s three-time goalie of the year, but has never been this far in the postseason.
“It doesn’t get any better than this and it comes down to one opportunity to win a championship,” Jakaitis said. “It’s what you play for. It’s been nine months since we started training camp and now, we’ve got one game left for everything. As a player you can’t ask for anything more. That opportunity to play for a championship.”
The Stingrays have played their best hockey away from the North Charleston Coliseum, winning an ECHL-record 10 times on the road in the playoffs.
“I think we’ve been at our best when we have our backs against the wall,” said Stingrays captain Andrew Rowe. “I think we kind of thrive in those environments. Allen has a great crowd, their building is going to be loud, but I’m confident in the guys in our locker room to get the job done.”
The Stingrays have already won once in a Game 7 on the road when they defeated Toledo, 1-0, in triple overtime in the Eastern Conference finals.
South Carolina will be without Andrew Ammon, who broke his hand in the Stingrays’ 4-1 win over Allen in Game 6 this past Wednesday night. Also, forward Sean Dolan is listed as questionable with an undisclosed injury. Dolan played just one shift in the third period in Game 6. Dolan had the game-winning goal in Game 1 against Allen.