More than any other player on the South Carolina Stingrays’ roster, defenseman Scott Ford understands that deep playoff runs don’t happen every season.
It’s been nine seasons since Ford, 35, has had a crack at winning a league championship.
In Ford’s third season as a professional, he helped guide the Dayton Bombers to the 2007 Kelly Cup Finals against the Idaho Steelheads. Idaho would eventually go on to win the Kelly Cup title, beating Dayton in five games.
Ford is savoring every moment of the Stingrays’ run to the Kelly Cup finals because there might not be a next time. The Stingrays will take on the Allen Americans in Game 2 of the Kelly Cup finals Tuesday night beginning at 8:05 p.m. at the Allen Event Center located north of Dallas, Tex. Game 3 will be Wednesday night at 8 p.m. The Stingrays took Game 1, 4-3, on Sean Dolan’s short-handed goal in the third period.
Ford has played more than 650 professional games, with the majority coming in the American Hockey League. But getting a chance to win a championship, no matter the level, is still special.
“I think when it comes down to it, we’re all competitors and we all want to win no matter where we are or what we’re playing,” said Ford, who has more than 500 games of AHL experience. “Whether it’s ping pong or out playing golf on an off day, we’re still competitors and we want to win. I’m excited to be a part of this team and to be where we are right now. I think the most lasting bonds you create are with teams and guys who go deep into the playoffs. Those are the teams and players I remember most.”
South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery, who is two years younger than his veteran defenseman, said the team wouldn’t be on the verge of their fourth Kelly Cup title without Ford’s leadership.
“He brings so many intangibles to the table that you can’t measure on a scoresheet,” Carbery said. “He’s been a rock for us in the locker room, keeping guys calm and making sure guys are ready to play. We’ve got a very young defensive core and he’s been vital in helping those guys develop during the season.”
Like Ford, Carbery knows what a run like this can mean for a veteran player. Carbery was winger on the Stingrays’ 2009 Kelly Cup title team.
“Guys play their entire careers to get a chance to win a championship and it doesn’t happen for them,” Carbery said. “Scott got a chance early in his career and now eight, nine years later he’s finally getting another chance. I know he’s enjoying every minute of this run.”
Winning his first title would be “fantastic” but there’s still plenty of hockey left to be played.
“I’m not getting ahead of myself,” Ford said. “We’ve still got to win three more games against a great Allen team. They are very offensive. They kept us back on our heels a little bit in Game 1 and they’re capable of scoring goals in bunches. We know that this series is a long way from being over. I hate to use a cliché, but we’re taking it one shift, one period, one game at a time.”
With a day to digest Game 1, Carbery said the Stingrays were “not great” offensively in the opener against the Americans.
“We really struggled to create scoring chances and didn’t have much puck possession in the offensive zone,” Carbery said. “I thought defensively we were pretty good, but we’ve got to do a better job creating chances. Our special teams were not very good either. We’ve got to be better offensively, but not at the expense of our defensive systems.”