Best In South Meet In Finals

By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – South Carolina coach Jared Bednar and Florida coach Malcolm Cameron said they don’t plan on making any big pre-game speeches this weekend.

There’s no need.

The Stingrays and Everblades open their best-of-seven South Division final series on Friday at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla., at 7:30 p.m. Game 2 is Saturday night at Germain Arena before the series moves to the North Charleston Coliseum on May 1 and 2 for Games 3 and 4.

Not only have the Stingrays and Everblades been the two best teams in the South Division all season, but they have also been arguably the two best teams in the American Conference.

The Everblades (49-17-5) won the Brabham Cup for the best regular season record in the ECHL, while the Stingrays finished with the fourth best overall record at 42-23-6.

“If the guys in our locker room can’t get up for this series, then they probably need to pick another profession,” Bednar said. “If you’re a competitor, you want to play against the best teams and the best player and Florida has the best team and the best players.”

Cameron said the teams are mirror images of each other. The Stingrays and Everblades certainly proved that on the ice, splitting their 12 regular season games.

“Both teams are very talented, very skilled and very deep,” Cameron said. “There’s not a lot that separates us. The series will come down to who executes the best on a consistent basis.”

The series features two of the top players in the ECHL in Florida’s Kevin Baker and South Carolina’s Travis Morin. Baker, the ECHL MVP this season, led the league in points (102) and goals (57). Morin, who was a first team All-ECHL pick, was third in points (88) and led the league with 62 assists.

“Our best players have to be our best players if we’re going to win this series,” Bednar said. “If they have three lines clicking and we have two lines clicking, then they’ll win the series and vice-versa. They’re going to have to play their best to beat us and we’re going to have to play our best to beat them. I’m convinced of that.

“There are going to be a lot of ups and downs in this series. The series isn’t going to go the way want it to all the time. It’s a game of momentum and especially on the road, if they push, we’ve got to push back.”

Bednar is hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself. The Everblades are 7-1 against the Stingrays in the postseason and have yet to lose a series to South Carolina in three playoff matchups (2002, 2004 and 2005). The only South Carolina player left from the 2005 series is assistant captain Nate Kiser.

Kiser said the Stingrays struggles with the Everblades in the playoffs shouldn’t be an issue over the next two weeks.

“It’s a totally different team and a different year,” Kiser said. “I’m the only dinosaur around from those times. We’ve got a whole new group of guys and Florida is a different team as well. What happened in the past isn’t going to have any bearing on what happens in this series.”

Stingrays captain Brad Farynuk couldn’t agree more.

“It doesn’t matter what happened in the past,” Farynuk said. “I think its what you’ve got going into the playoffs and how your team is willing to show up and play each night. The biggest thing in the playoffs is who is hot at the right time. It’s no different than March Madness. You get on a roll and you run with it.”