By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – It might not have been the biggest save in Stingrays history, but it’s up there.
Leading 3-2 with less than 30 seconds left in Game 5 of the 2001 Kelly Cup Finals, Trenton center Scott Bertoli got behind the South Carolina defense and had a point-blank shot on Stingrays goalie Kirk Daubenspeck.
Bertoli’s wrist shot was labeled for the upper right-hand corner of the net. At the last instant, Daubenspeck slid across the crease and snagged the puck out of the air just as it appeared to be going into the net.
Game over. Stingrays win the series 4-1 and capture the second ECHL Kelly Cup title in franchise history.
“Biggest save in franchise history,” said current Stingrays coach Jason Fitzsimmons, who was an assistant coach during the 2000-01 season. “Under the circumstances, with the game on the line and the Kelly Cup on the line, it was the biggest save in franchise history.”
It is because of saves like that that Daubenspeck will be introduced as the latest inductee into the Stingrays Hall of Fame during the first intermission of Friday night’s game against the Reading Royals.
The former Wisconsin star, who retired from pro hockey last summer, holds the team career marks in every major goalie category. In four full seasons with the Stingrays, Daubenspeck compiled a 109-56-14 mark. He had a goals-against average of 2.61 and a .919 save percentage.
But numbers don’t tell the whole story: Daubenspeck was a winner. He led the Stingrays to that ’01 Kelly Cup title and won a Calder Cup, the American Hockey League title, with Hershey last season.
“He didn’t care about save percentages or goals-against averages,” Fitzsimmons said. “If he gave up five goals and we scored six, he’d be happy. He’s one of the most competitive players I’ve ever been around. I can remember him throwing his sticks at guys who scored on him during practice, that’s how competitive he was.
“If you scored on him in practice or in a game, he took it personally and that’s the mark of a professional. He took pride in what he did on the ice.”
Fitzsimmons said it’s no coincidence that Daubenspeck won Kelly Cup and Calder Cup championships during his career.
“That just doesn’t happen by accident,” Fitzsimmons said.
Six years later, Daubenspeck still remembers Bertoli’s shot.
“It still gives me goose bumps thinking about it now,” he said. “I was so focused, I didn’t realize how much time was left. The only thing I cared about was making the next save. The place was going nuts. I was screaming at everyone on the ice, but no one could hear me. It’s one of those moments I’ll never forget.”
Daubenspeck said he’s not sure how he’ll react during Friday’s ceremony.
“It’s icing on the cake for me. To be inducted into the hall of fame of one of the best franchises in the ECHL is an honor. It’s like you’re one of the best of the best. When I was there, I probably took it for granted, but now that my career is over I realize that the Stingrays always did it in a first-class manner and that’s something they should be proud of.”