By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The text messages and e-mails started late Monday night and have not let up all week for South Carolina Stingrays defenseman Rory Rawlyk.
The playful taunts and jabs back-and-forth between Rawlyk and his old teammates from the Cincinnati Cyclones began almost immediately once the teams for the American Conference finals were set.
The Stingrays will take on the Cyclones in Game 1 of the best-of-seven ECHL American Conference Kelly Cup finals Friday at 7:30 at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. Game 2 of the series will be held Saturday night at U.S. Bank Arena. The series will switch back to the Lowcountry on Wednesday for Game 3.
Rawlyk played in 37 regular season and playoff games a year ago for the Cyclones and stays in contact with about a half-dozen players who are currently on their roster.
“We’ve been talking to each other on the phone and the chirping has been pretty good,” said Rawlyk, who had four goals and 19 assists in 27 regular season games. “Nothing bad, just good-natured stuff between friends. They’ve got eight or 10 guys back this year from last year’s team, so there will be some familiar faces out there on the ice.”
With rookie defenseman Patrick McNeill likely out for the series with an undisclosed injury, Rawlyk will be counted on heavily to help stop his old teammates.
“They’ve got a really quick, skilled group of forwards,” Rawlyk said. “They’re probably one of the best skating teams in the league. They’ve got solid defensemen and great goaltending. It’s easy to see why they had the best record in the league during the regular season.”
The numbers the Cyclones put up during the regular season were downright gaudy.
Cincinnati won the Brabham Cup, given to the team with the best record during the regular season. They went 55-12-5, and the 55 wins were the second most in the ECHL’s 20-year history.
During the month of January the Cyclones won an ECHL record 17 straight games, including 14 in a row at U.S. Bank Arena, another record. Their 26 road wins tied a league record and their 29 home wins were fourth most in ECHL history.
Rookie David Desharnais led the ECHL in scoring with 106 points on 29 goals and 77 assists. He was named the league’s rookie of the year and became just the fifth first-year player to be named MVP in league history.
Cincinnati was also the ECHL’s top scoring team with 292 goals, while the Cyclones gave up just 178 goals, which was second fewest to Texas’ 177 goals allowed.
“Obviously, they are a well-balanced team,” said Stingrays coach Jared Bednar. “They have three very potent offensive lines and they take care of their own end. They’ve got a lethal transition game and a lethal power play. They’re a quick team, a small team and they like to get out and skate.”
This will be the first series this postseason that the Stingrays don’t have home-ice advantage. The Stingrays are a perfect 9-0 at home, but are winless in six tries on the road in the postseason.
“If we want to get out of this round and get to the Kelly Cup finals we’re going to have to find a way to win on the road,” said Stingrays captain Cail MacLean. “I don’t think we’ve got a mental block about playing on the road. I think we’ve played some of our best hockey of the playoffs on the road and for whatever reason we haven’t come out on top. I can think of a couple of games where I felt like we deserved a better fate.”
Besides the injury to McNeill, the Stingrays could also be without winger Marty Guerin, who is second on the team in scoring with 14 points on nine goals and five assists. Guerin suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 4 of the Stingrays series with Columbia. He is listed as questionable for the weekend, Bednar said.
“Marty is day-to-day right now,” Bednar said. “My gut feeling is that he won’t play this weekend, but will be back in the lineup when the series comes back to Charleston.”