Stingrays’ ‘special season’ comes to disappointing end in Game 7

File/Wade Spees/Staff The South Carolina Stingrays fell one game short of the Kelly Cup title in a record-breaking season.

Twenty-four hours after their 6-1 loss to the Allen Americans in Game 7 of the Kelly Cup Finals, South Carolina Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery was still mulling over what had just happened.

The sting of the defeat will linger with Carbery for a while, it might be a loss he’ll never get over, he admitted.

“I think most of the guys, most of our fans, will have put that loss behind them after a week or two,” Carbery said Monday afternoon at his office inside the North Charleston Coliseum. “Me, it’s going to take a lot longer. I’ll probably never forget that game as long as I live. I won’t lose the bitter taste of that game probably until October when training camps start opening up. It’ll take me that long. Honestly, I’ll probably never get over it.”

It wasn’t that the Stingrays lost the game, but the way they did it that is most distasteful for Carbery. Carbery can accept a loss as long as his team plays up to its potential.

“I’ve said all along I can live with results as long as we play the game the right way,” Carbery said. “We just got beat in every facet of the game. We lost everything. From every faceoff to every one-on-one battle to every loose puck. Everything you can put into a game that a team needs to do to win, we didn’t do. I think the biggest question for me is how does a team play that poorly with what was at stake? How does that happen? I can’t explain it.”

Carbery didn’t get much sleep Sunday night when he finally got home in the early morning hours after the team’s charter flight from Dallas after the game. He has pondered what he could have done better or differently that might have resulted in a different outcome.

“Of course you go back and think about what you could have done differently,” Carbery said. “Did we not stress the importance of the game enough? Were we too loose? Were we too tight? Should we have bused and not flown and given them the royal treatment. You can go down list. Should we have done something different for the pre-game scout? Should I have been harder on them or should I have told them how hard this is going to be instead of saying I was confident we could win? But even if we’d changed everything we’d done to prepare for Game 7, I don’t think that changes the result. One thing isn’t going to change everything. We just got outplayed.”

As much as the Game 7 loss hurts, Carbery knows that this was a special bunch of players to be around. The fact that the team wasn’t even in the playoff picture to start the month of February and to end the season one win shy of a championship will stay with Carbery for a long time.

“It’s always going to be a little bit tarnished because of Game 7, but you can’t deny where this group came from and where they ended up,” Carbery said. “People will ask me because I’m young if I still wish I was playing, and honestly, every year, I’ve said ‘no.’ I don’t miss playing. This was the first year from being around the guys in the locker room and on the bus, I missed it. It’s the first time that I wish I was kind of playing and could be a part of this team.

“I’m not a coach that hangs around the locker room because that’s their area. It was just the way that they enjoyed each other’s company and played for one another and cared about each other that made me want to be a part of this group. I could see myself wanting to be a part of that. That says something about how special this group was.”

It was a record-setting regular and playoff season for the Stingrays. The club established or tied a slew of ECHL records.

The most notable were:

Most consecutive wins at 23 games.

Most consecutive road wins at 13 games.

Longest shutout streak at 321 minutes, 46 seconds.

Most consecutive wins by a goalie — Jeff Jakaitis — at 15 games.

Most consecutive games without a loss at 23 games.

Tied for most shutouts in a season at 11 games.

Tied for most Kelly Cup Finals appearances at four.

Most Kelly Cup road playoff wins at 10 games.

Jakaitis was also named the ECHL’s MVP and goalie of the year.

Still, not winning the final game of the season will, rightly or wrongly, define this team.

“It’s just unfortunate that we had to play one of our worst games of the season in the biggest game of the year,” said Stingrays captain Andrew Rowe. “I’m never going to forget this team and what these guys have meant to me.”