The South Carolina Stingrays battled hard for their ECHL playoff berth, winning their final six regular-season matches and squeezing into the fourth and final spot in the Eastern Conference when Orlando lost June 4.
The hockey club celebrated with a 4-1 victory over Jacksonville the following day in front of a season-best crowd of 7,375 fans at the North Charleston Coliseum in its final regular season game.
Despite the playoff berth, that was the Stingrays’ final game at the Coliseum this season. With the Coliseum previously booked for other events, the Stingrays will begin a best-of-five series against the Florida Everblades with matches at the Carolina Ice Palace on June 7 and June 9, with the puck dropping at 7:05 p.m. each night.
The series moves to Florida on June 12 and, if necessary, on June 13 and 14. The playoff games will be streamed on pay-per-view platform flohockey.tv and will be avaliable on internet radio at mixlr.com/scstingrayshockey.
With limited capacity at the Ice Palace, only season-ticket holders with a full 36-game ticket plan will be allowed to attend. That will be about 500 spectators, said Stingrays president Rob Concannon.
“It’s very frustrating not to be able to play in our home rink,” Concannon said. “But in a year like this, COVID-19 has really screwed up a lot of different things, and this is one of them.
“Normally, we start our season in October and the Kelly Cup playoffs end in the first week of June. But this year, the start of the season was pushed to December, and that pushed the playoffs into July, which is not our normal time frame. We were aware that this could happen, and we did try to work with the Coliseum to see if there were any alternatives. Unfortunately, it did not fall into place.”
The Stingrays finished the season at 34-23 with 81 points, behind Florida (42-19, 92 points), Greenville (38-19, 91) and Indy (37-24, 82 points) in the Eastern Conference. But South Carolina was the hottest team in the conference at the end of the season, winning its last six and eight of its last 10 to make the playoffs for the 27th time in 28 seasons behind first-year coaches Ryan Blair and Brenden Kotyk.
Forward Cole Ully earned a spot on the All-ECHL second team, tying for eighth in the league with 58 points on 22 goals and 36 assists.
“Our coaches did a great job, especially considering it was not a normal season and our guys were not allowed to do certain things,” Concannon said. “Life away from the rink came into effect at times, but the guys battled really hard to get into the playoffs.”
That effort is one reason the home-ice situation is disappointing, Concannon said. He pursued other alternatives, such as playing in Greenville or in Florida, but none made sense “financially or competitively,” he said.
“I really feel bad for our fans and players,” he said. “The players have really made a lot of sacrifices, getting tested twice a week and abiding by ECHL rules. And our fans have supported us year after year, and to have to tell them that we have to play in the Ice Palace disappointed a lot of them.
“They want to see a deep Kelly Cup run and hopefully they can, just not in the normal landscape they are used to.”
Eastern Conference Semifinals
#1 Florida Everblades (42-19-9) vs. #4 South Carolina Stingrays (34-23-13)
Game 1 – Monday, June 7 at 7:05 p.m. ET at South Carolina
Game 2 – Wednesday, June 9 at 7:05 p.m. ET at South Carolina
Game 3 – Saturday, June 12 at 7 p.m. ET at Florida
Game 5 – Monday, June 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Florida (If Necessary)
#2 Greenville Swamp Rabbits (38-19-15) vs. #3 Indy Fuel (37-24-8)
Game 1 – Tuesday, June 8 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Indy
Game 2 – Thursday, June 10 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Greenville
Game 3 – Friday, June 11 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Greenville
Game 4 – Saturday, June 12 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Greenville (If Necessary)
Game 5 – Monday, June 14 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Indy (If Necessary)
Western Conference Semifinals
#1 Allen Americans (45-23-4) vs. #4 Utah Grizzlies (35-26-11)
Game 1 – Tuesday, June 8 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Allen
Game 2 – Wednesday, June 9 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Allen
Game 3 – Friday, June 11 at 7:10 p.m. MT at Utah
Game 4 – Saturday, June 12 at 7:10 p.m. MT at Utah (If Necessary)
Game 5 – Monday, June 14 at 7:10 p.m. MT at Utah (If Necessary)
#2 Wichita Thunder (41-22-8) vs. #3 Fort Wayne Komets (29-17-5)
Game 1 – Tuesday, June 8 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Wichita
Game 2 – Wednesday, June 9 at 7:05 p.m. CT Wichita
Game 3 – Friday, June 11 at 8 p.m. ET at Fort Wayne
Game 4 – Saturday, June 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Fort Wayne (If Necessary)
Game 5 – Monday, June 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Fort Wayne (If Necessary)