Despite all the injuries and call-ups to the American Hockey League, the South Carolina Stingrays are still on the verge of winning the ECHL's South Division.
A victory Friday night against Elmira in the regular-season finale won't secure the South Division title, but it will go a long way in giving the Stingrays home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Stingrays have a four-point lead on Orlando for the South Division crown. However, Orlando has two games in hand on the Stingrays, and if the Solar Bears win their final three games would capture the division crown and one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference.
"It's not an ideal situation because we don't control our own destiny, but there's certainly a lot to play for this weekend," said South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery. "We would have loved to have been able to take our foot off the gas pedal a little bit the last week of the season, but we're still battling for home ice and a higher seed in the playoffs."
The Stingrays, who were leading the South Division by double-digits back in early February, have been decimated by injuries and call-ups all season. In the last two weeks, the Stingrays have lost Peter Boyd, the team's leading scorer; Scott Campbell, the club's top centerman; defensemen Ryan Grimshaw and Jeremy Price; and goalie Jeff Jakaitis. Only Campbell is expected to return to the lineup if the Stingrays managed to get out of the opening round of the playoffs.
Luka Vidmar (Rochester), Andrew Cherniwchan (Providence), Chris Langkow (Bridgeport), Scooter Vaughan (Bridgeport), Marc Hagel (Iowa) Jordan Owens (Hamilton) and David LeNeveu (Hartford) remain in the AHL. Carbery said he hopes to have several of the players currently in the AHL back for the playoffs.
"You can only worry about the guys we've got in the lineup right now," Carbery said.
There was some good news coming out of the Stingrays locker room after Thursday's practice. Team captain Kevin Quick could play Friday night against Elmira. Quick has missed the last five months with a broken leg.
"I've been skating, I haven't been able to take part in some of the contact stuff, but I feel good and I'd like to get one game under my belt before the playoffs," Quick said. "We're going to go to the doctors one more time and make sure everything is OK."
Forward Igor Gongalsky, who has missed the last three weeks, also could return to the ice. Carbery said forward Chad Painchaud, who has missed the last six weeks with an upper body injury, could be back for the playoffs.
"Obviously, having Kevin and Igor back would be huge additions for us," Carbery said. "Chad is a little further behind those guys, but he's improving."
Jakaitis, 30, was named to the ECHL's First Team on Thursday.
Jakaitis, who had season-ending knee surgery earlier this week, was tied for the ECHL lead with 24 wins, tied for second with a .924 save percentage, stands fourth with a 2.16 goals-against average and is fifth with 2,391 minutes played.
Overall, the Rochester, Minn., native holds a 24-12-1-2 record with three shutouts in 40 games .
The All-ECHL First Team selection is Jakaitis' second in his career, receiving the honor as a member of the Gwinnett Gladiators in 2011-12.
"Jeff's gave us a chance to win every time he was on the ice for us," Carbery said. "He rebounded from a difficult year in 2012-13 recovering from injury and playing behind Ryan Zapolski to prove again that he is a top goaltender at the ECHL level."
Former Stingrays forward Marty Clapton and defenseman Trevor Johnson will be inducted into the Stingrays Hall of Fame on Friday.
Both Clapton and Johnson began their professional careers with the Hampton Roads Admirals before signing with the Stingrays for the 2000-01 season.
Both were members of the Stingrays 2001 Kelly Cup championship team. Clapton stands fourth all-time in Stingrays history with 373 games played, while Johnson is fifth with 331 contests.
Clapton scored 75 goals and finished with 218 points in a Stingrays uniform, both standing ninth in team history.
Johnson racked up 930 penalty minutes, third all-time, including back-to-back 200-PIM seasons in 2002-03 and 2003-04. From 2003-06, he served as team captain.
"It is only fitting that Marty and Trevor deservingly go into the Stingrays Hall of Fame together," said Stingrays team president Rob Concannon. "They arrived in the Lowcountry after playing with Hampton Roads, helped us win a championship in 2001 and made tremendous contributions in our community off the ice."