By Kent Babb
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Dean Stork asked for a trade after a seven-year career that included plenty of playoff disappointments.
When it became obvious in early March that the Texas Wildcatters would not reach the playoffs, Stork asked to be put first in line for a trade.
Stork got his wish three weeks later when Coach Robert Dirk woke him from a nap and told him to pack after the Wildcatters traded him to the Columbia Inferno.
Since his Inferno debut March 25, Stork has added depth and experience to the Inferno defense. That will be paramount when the Kelly Cup playoffs start at 7:30 Wednesday as the No. 2-seeded Inferno play host to the Charlotte Checkers in the first round.
“We weren’t getting blown out; we were still in games,” said Stork, who never won a Kelly Cup with his five previous teams. “I really hated to ask for a trade, though, even though I couldn’t stand the thought of not making the playoffs.”
Stork’s argument for the move was that his career might allow him few more chances at a Kelly Cup, and his growing frustration might not allow many more seasons with teams such as the last-place Wildcatters, who finished 17-44-11.
After finalizing trade details, Stork drove 16 hours from Beaumont, Texas, to Columbia. From there, the team ended a 12-game stretch in which they won four games, including Stork’s first three. Columbia also played strong defense when it most needed it, holding the Florida Everblades at four goals while the Inferno completed its 5-4 comeback victory after trailing 4-1 in the third period.
“He certainly has aided in helping our defense,” Inferno coach Scott White said. “He gives us more depth, and guys play better when they play less.”
In 10 regular-season meetings this season, Columbia was 5-3-2 against Charlotte. The Inferno also held the Checkers to 3.2 goals per game, even though the Inferno have averaged 3.4 against Charlotte.
But close games are the reason White traded 22-year-old Steve Slaton for Stork two days before the ECHL trade deadline. Texas got a young defenseman to help its rebuilding plan, and in addition to his skills on defense, Stork had one goal and a pair of assists in his first 11 games in Columbia.
“You’ve got to think about yourself sometimes,” Stork said. “There comes a time when you have to look at your age and wonder how many more chances at a championship you’ll get. How many chances could I have left? It won’t be too many. I’m just glad I wound up here.”