The South Carolina Stingrays are the 2009 Kelly Cup Champions, holding off the Alaska Aces in a memorable seven-game slugfest to capture their ECHL-record third title.
Back in the 49th state on Thursday, the Rays looked to put away the Aces at Sullivan Arena, which saw a record 6,610 fans take in Game 6. The visitors silenced the crowd with a pair of goals 38 seconds apart in the opening period, with Spencer Carbery scoring an unassisted marker at 6:43 before Travis Morin collected his fourth of the playoffs at 7:21 on assists from Brad Farynuk and Maxime Lacroix. With the first stanza winding down, though, Alaska sliced that lead in half, as two-time Kelly Cup winner Lance Galbraith tallied his ninth at 17:59 on helpers from former Stingray and Bear Matt Stefanishion and Cam Keith. The Aces claimed the lone goal in the second, with the ECHL’s leading scorer in the postseason, Josh Soares, bagging a power-play marker from the slot at 3:56. Stefanishion grabbed the go-ahead goal for Alaska at 16:23, sending a backhand shot by Stingrays goaltender Jonathan Boutin. SC appeared to score the game-tying goal with three-tenths of a second remaining in regulation, with Michael Dubuc, who had been out of the lineup for the last six contests, redirecting Zach Tarkir’s shot from the point. Referee Andy Thiessen had other thoughts, however, immediately negating the apparent equalizer due to a high stick. Replays showed the goal was not hit with a high stick, nor had time expired before the puck crossed the line. Such is life. Some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue. Boutin suffered the loss with a 35-save effort while J.P. Lamoureux earned his 15th win of the playoffs with 20 saves. Hoping to make the third time a charm, South Carolina set out the next evening to dispatch the Aces in only the third Game 7 in the league’s 21-year finals history. Alaska was looking to become just the second team, and first since Bruce Boudreau’s Mississippi Sea Wolves in 1999, to rally from a 3-1 deficit and claim the ECHL’s top prize. It only seemed fitting that these two clubs, who have displayed why they are the best representatives in the league this year, would end the campaign on the same ice where it began last October in the preseason. For the fifth time in the series, the Stingrays scored the initial goal, with Maxime Lacroix, celebrating his 22nd birthday, depositing his league-leading 13th goal at 18:45 of the first stanza. Keith Johnson and Travis Morin, who extended his point streak to nine games, earned playmakers. SC would extend their lead to 2-0 in the second, as Rob Ricci pocketed his first professional goal at 2:29 on assists from captain Brad Farynuk and Matt Scherer. For the second straight night, Lance Galbraith cut into the Rays’ lead, garnering an even strength goal at 10:04 of the second to make it 2-1. Trent Campbell, the Rays’ leading scorer in the second season, regained a two-goal advantage at 11:06 of the third, amassing his sixth goal and 24th point. The Aces didn’t give up, though, battling until the end. With Jean-Philippe Lamoureux pulled in favor of a sixth attacker, Matt Stefanishion drew Alaska within one at 18:15. But even with a six-on-four advantage, thanks to Patrick Wellar’s slashing penalty at 18:48, the Aces couldn’t pot the equalizer, and Pierre-Luc O’Brien sewed up the victory with a short-handed empty-netter with 25 ticks left, sending the Stingrays to a 4-2 win and the holy grail of the ECHL, the Kelly Cup. Stingrays Head Coach Jared Bednar, who will have his name etched on the Kelly Cup a league-record third time, maintained his pattern, swapping out goaltenders following a loss. That meant James Reimer, winner of Games 3 and 4 in the Finals, was back between the pipes for the decisive contest. And the 21-year-old rookie didn’t disappoint, backstopping the winning club with numerous key saves, 26 total, en route to Playoff Most Valuable Player honors. The first-year pro posted a 4-1-2 mark with one shutout, a 2.17 goals-against average, and a .929 save percentage in the postseason. Many thanks to all the Caps fans who kept tabs on the Stingrays’ unforgettable season, whether it was in-person, watching/listening on the internet, or following through website updates during the regular season and playoffs. You can believe a strong contingent in the Lowcountry is pulling for the Hershey Bears to claim an AHL-best tenth Calder Cup Championship this spring, adding a second title to the coffers of a very successful 2008-09 campaign for the Washington Capitals and their affiliates.