Post & Courier | Jeff Hartsell
The puck sometimes hits the roof, the visiting team uses the Stingrays’ locker room, and only about 500 fans can squeeze in to watch the game.
It’s a bit different than their usual home at the North Charleston Coliseum, but the South Carolina Stingrays have made the best of the Carolina Ice Palace in the ECHL playoffs.
“It’s been our playoff home, and the guys have embraced it,” said Stingrays coach Ryan Blair, whose club can clinch a berth in the ECHL Kelly Cup finals with a victory over Greenville on June 21 at the Ice Palace. “It’s a tough environment to come into, and we embrace that.
“We enjoy playing there, we enjoy practicing there. And the fans have been excellent, they are right on top of you. It’s been a great home for us, and we’re proud to have that.”
The Stingrays’ usual home at the North Charleston Coliseum has been unavailable for the playoffs, because the ECHL season was pushed back due to COVID-19 and the Coliseum had been booked for other events.
But South Carolina is 2-1 in the playoffs at the Ice Palace, which is designed for junior hockey and skating lessons, and also serves as the Stingrays’ practice facility.
That can lead to some unusual elements for a pro hockey match. The puck can and does hit the low-hanging roof, especially when teams are trying to clear the puck from their defensive zones. Wall heights around the rink range from 3 feet to 10 feet, with netting hung to protect spectators from flying pucks.
The game crew has to use an “industrial sized Sharpie” to draw in the trapezoid lines behind the net before each period; they mark off the area where the goalie is allowed to play the puck behind the net.
The Stingrays have a locker room at the Ice Palace, decorated with red, white and blue team branding, that they use for practice. But during the playoffs, they’ve chosen to use a larger, newly renovated locker room. That leaves opponents dressing and meeting amid Stingrays’ paraphernalia.
South Carolina has also been successful on the road during the playoffs, going 3-2 and clinching their opening series over the ECHL’s top team, the Florida Everblades, at Hertz Arena in Estero, Florida.
On Saturday night, the Stingrays scored three goals in the final 11 minutes, including the game-winner from Dan DeSalvo with 20 seconds left, to steal a 3-2 victory at Bon Secours Arena in Greenville.
That gave the Rays a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. If South Carolina doesn’t clinch Monday night, it will have another chance in Game 5 on Wednesday at the Ice Palace.
The club won its final six games of the regular season to squeeze into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and are now 5-3 in playoff games, giving the Stingrays an 11-3 mark over their last 14 games.
Mark Cooper has a team-best eight points in the playoffs, including two goals, while Cole Ully and Andrew Cherniwchan have scored four goals each and Justin Florek three. Goalie Hunter Shephard has 229 saves in eight games (28.6 per game) and a goals-against average of 3.13 in the playoffs.
“There’s just a belief in the room,” Blair said. “Our guys have come a long way here down the stretch. They’ve really stuck to it and come together as a group, and we’re happy that we are playing our best hockey at the right time of the year.”
In the Western Conference finals, Allen and Fort Wayne are knotted at a game apiece.