By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – About the only similarities between this year’s American Conference final between South Carolina and Cincinnati and last year’s matchup are the names on the front of the jerseys.
Because the names on the back of the uniforms are vastly different.
The Stingrays and Cyclones meet for the second straight year in the ECHL’s American Conference final. The best-of-seven series opens Saturday at 7 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Only 11 players — four for the Cyclones and seven for the Stingrays — remain from last year’s American Conference final. The Cyclones beat the Stingrays in five games on their way to winning the Kelly Cup title.
McElroy, who played 82 games for the Stingrays from 2006-08, has missed all but one game in the playoffs with an undisclosed injury and is not expected to be play in this series.
Gone from the Cyclones’ Kelly Cup championship team are former ECHL MVP David Desharnais, who led all scorers with 33 points in last year’s playoff run, and goalie Cedrick Desjardins, who had a league-leading 1.84 goals against average in the postseason. The Cyclones’ top six scorers in the playoffs are no longer with the team.
“We’re a totally different team from last year,” said Cincinnati coach Chuck Weber. “At this level, you’re going to have a lot of turnover. It’s just the nature of the business. We had 57 different players this season, and even in this league, that’s a lot of players. We’ve got four players back from last year and we’ll lean on those guys in this series because they’ve been through this before.
“To compare this year’s series to last year’s series isn’t really fair for either team because we’ve got so many new guys in the lineup.”
While, the names might have changed for Cincinnati, Weber said the Stingrays will still recognize the Cyclones’ wide-open, attacking style.
“We got off to a slow start, but that’s one of the reasons we made so many lineup changes,” Weber said. “You try to bring in players that fit your style and we like to be as athletic as possible with guys that can skate and put a lot of pressure on the puck.
“We want guys to be creative, so that won’t be much different from last year.”
While South Carolina has almost double the number of returning players than does Cincinnati — Nate Kiser, Scott Romfo, Sasha Pokulok, Travis Morin, Trent Campbell, Pierre-Luc O’Brien and Matt Scherer — the Stingrays still have plenty of new faces in the lineup.
“I don’t think there’s anyone on our team that thinks we’re playing the same team we did last year,” said Scherer, who leads the Stingrays with six goals in the playoffs.
“I hope Cincinnati doesn’t think they’re playing the same team. It’s a completely different group and a totally different dynamic for both teams.”