Stingrays make final playoff push

Former South Carolina Stingrays star Matt Scherer is No. 24 in The Post and Courier's Top-25 players in team history. (Staff/File Photo)

As far as South Carolina captain Kevin Quick is concerned, the Stingrays have been playing in the Kelly Cup Playoffs since the beginning of February.

With four games remaining in the regular season, the Stingrays are in sixth place in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference and appear to be lock for the postseason. The top eight teams from the conference make the postseason.

The Stingrays play their final regular season home game at the North Charleston Coliseum today (7:05 p.m.) against the Gwinnett Gladiators.

Back in February, a postseason bid was anything but assured for a franchise that has been to the playoffs a league-record 18 times.

Going into February, the Stingrays were 22-22-4 and in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. They had won back-to-back games just once during the season.

“We were a struggling hockey team that’s for sure,” Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery said. “We had a ton of player turnover, and we were searching for an identity.”

Not so much anymore. Since Feb. 1, the Stingrays are among the hottest teams in the ECHL. The Stingrays are 13-3-4 over the last six weeks and 35-25-8 (78 points) overall and just a single point behind Florida and Elmira for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

“We’ve been a completely different hockey team since the start of February,” Quick said. “I think everyone has bought into what we’re trying to do. We’ve made our game much simpler and everyone just seems to trust everyone else on the ice.”

The Stingrays’ resurgence began when the roster began to solidify itself. In December and January, the Stingrays roster looked more like a revolving door with players coming and going almost daily. The Stingrays have used 51 different players already this season, a lot even by ECHL standards.

Since February, the Stingrays have made fewer and fewer player transactions.

“It seemed like we were getting four or five new guys every week,” Quick said. “They would play a game or two and then they’d be gone. I think as soon as we started to solidify the roster and get the right guys in our locker room, things began to turn around for us. We might get a new guy here and there, but it wasn’t like we had a whole new lineup from game to game.”

The Stingrays learned this week that forward Mike Hamilton and defenseman Ryan Lowery will not play again this season. Both have been out of the lineup with concussions.

Defensemen Luke Vidmar (leg) and Cameron Brodie (concussion) will miss tonight’s game.

Defenseman Ryan Button, who played one game for the Stingrays back in February, has been assigned to the team by the America Hockey League’s Providence Bruins.

The Stingrays signed former Bemidji State University defenseman Jake Areshenko. Areshenko practiced with the team on Thursday and is expected to be in the lineup tonight against the Gladiators.

Former team captain Matt Scherer will be inducted into the Stingrays Hall of Fame during tonight’s game with the Gladiators.

The Stingrays also announced that defenseman Scooter Vaughan is the winner of the 2013 Jerry Zucker Community Service Award.

“It is a tremendous honor and I am very moved that people think that much of me,” Scherer said. “It is something I take with a tremendous amount of privilege.”

Scherer served as the Stingrays’ team captain from 2009-12, playing five seasons (2007-12) with the organization and helping lead the team to the 2009 Kelly Cup Championship. The Seattle, Washington, native ranks seventh all-time in games played (308) and finished his career with 65 goals and 62 assists.

“For the last five years, Matt Scherer has been a big part of the Stingrays organization,” said Stingrays president Rob Concannon said. “Not only a leader on the ice, he carried his role off the ice. He truly represented what our organization stands for.”