Stingrays' Finley poised to make return from injury

Joe Finley

South Carolina Stingrays coach Cail MacLean hopes that defenseman Joe Finley's return to the lineup will last a little longer this time.

Finley, a 2005 first-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals, has missed the last 10 weeks with a lower body injury. Finley is poised to make his return this weekend during a three-game series with Gwinnett.

The Stingrays take on Gwinnett at the North Charleston Coliseum today at 7 p.m. The Stingrays will travel to Duluth, Ga., to face the Gladiators on Saturday and Sunday.

Finley was sent down to the Stingrays just before Thanksgiving and played in five games before getting injured. A year ago, Finley played in 17 games with the Stingrays before rupturing a nerve in his hand, which forced him to miss the rest of the season.

"Joe has really had some bad luck when it comes to injuries the last two seasons," MacLean said. "It's been a tough situation for him because there's nothing he can do about it. It's been a couple of freak plays that have got him hurt. I know there were times when he got discouraged, but he's fought through that and now he's ready to play."

Finley has been practicing with the team all week and could make his return either tonight or Saturday against the Gladiators.

"He'll play this weekend. That's our plan. Right now, he's questionable for (tonight)," MacLean said. "We don't want to rush him back out there and get him hurt again. I know he's eager to get back on the ice and he's excited about being healthy again. We just want to make sure he's 100 percent ready before we put him back out there."

With the next 12 games against South Division rivals, Finley's return couldn't have come at a better time.

"He'll definitely give us a boost," MacLean said. "His size and strength will only help us in our defensive zone, and he's got a very good shot. Joe's really worked hard to improve his overall game."

Meanwhile, rookie goalie Shane Owen is expected to make his second straight start tonight. Owen stopped 24 of 25 shots Wednesday in the Stingrays' 2-1 victory at Greenville.

"Shane was solid for us," MacLean said. "He didn't get a lot of action in the first two periods, but he made 14 saves in the third period. I thought he did a good job."

MacLean said Owen kept his game simple and didn't allow many second shots.

"He's very sound fundamentally," MacLean said. "His position in the net was solid. That's what we kept hearing about him before we brought him in. He's pretty athletic and made some good saves when we needed him to in the third period."

With Todd Ford and Jared DeMichiel in the American Hockey League with Hershey, the Stingrays will have to rely on Owen and Andrew Loewen in net for the foreseeable future.

"We did a good job of keeping to our systems and limiting shots on Wednesday," MacLean said. "We'll have to continue to play like that this weekend."

Reach Andrew Miller at 937-5599.

Check out the Stingrays 'Rays the Roof' blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/stingrays.

Gwinnett Gladiators (20-21-7, 47 points) at South Carolina Stingrays (27-19-2, 56 points)

When: Tonight, 7 p.m.

Where: North Charleston Coliseum

Tickets: 744-2248.

Radio: WTMZ 910-AM