The South Carolina Stingrays 2018-19 season came to an end Saturday with a first-round playoff loss to the Orlando Solar Bears in five games during the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs presented by SmileDirectClub. Goaltender Parker Milner led SC to an early series lead with a 2-0 shutout in Game 1, but the Solar Bears had the upper hand in the next four contests to eliminate the Rays and move into the second round.South Carolina played its best hockey during the last five weeks of the regular season, going 10-5-1 in the final 16 games of the year including a dramatic three-game sweep of the Atlanta Gladiators which culminated in a playoff-clinching win on April 7. The Stingrays have now qualified for the ECHL’s postseason in 12 consecutive seasons, as well as in 25 of their 26 years in team history.
The team’s overall record of 35-31-5-1 was good for a third-place finish in the South Division standings. In addition, South Carolina finished above .500 on the road (18-14-3-1) for the sixth straight campaign and had one of the league’s best penalty killing units, finishing second in the ECHL with a PK rate of 86.3%. The Rays excelled in play outside of the South, finishing with a record of 8-3-1 against seven other clubs from the league’s three other divisions.
Individually, the Stingrays had 12 players hit the 20-point mark this season, five skaters got 30 points or more and the team’s top four scorers eclipsed the 50-point mark. Seven of the team’s forwards reached double-digits in goal scoring, led by forward Grant Besse, who had 30 tallies. Rookie forward Jonathan Charbonneau led way on the power play with seven goals and 16 points, while veteran attacker Andrew Cherniwchan netted four shorthanded goals. Cherniwchan and rookie forward Cameron Askew tied for the team lead with four game-winning goals, and Besse directed a team-high 261 shots on net.
STINGRAYS OVERALL RECORD: 35-31-5-1STINGRAYS LEADERSGoals: 30 – Grant BesseAssists: 38 – Andrew CherniwchanPoints: 67 – Andrew CherniwchanPlus/Minus: Plus-11 – Joey LeachPenalty Minutes: 129 – Andrew CherniwchanShots On Goal: 261 – Grant BesseWins: 19 – Parker MilnerGoals Against Average: 2.87 – Adam MorrisonSave Percentage: 0.912 – Parker Milner
MILNER LEADS THE WAY DOWN THE STRETCHGoaltender Parker Milner was at his best late in the season for the Stingrays. In his final 10 appearances during the regular season, the backstop was 7-2-1 with a goals-against average of 2.59 and a 0.924 save percentage. He then started all five games for South Carolina during the postseason, posting a goals-against of 2.74 along with a 0.914 save percentage. The netminder was recently recalled by the Washington Capitals on Sunday after the conclusion of the Stingrays season. Milner, 28, finished with an overall record of 19-17-3 with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage in 40 games for SC during the regular season. Additionally, the 6-foot-1, 187-pound goaltender appeared in three AHL games for the Hershey Bears, posting a 2-1-0 record with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.
CHERNIWCHAN REACHES NEW HEIGHTSForward Andrew Cherniwchan had the best season of his ECHL career during 2018-19, leading South Carolina in scoring during the regular season with 67 points on 29 goals and 38 assists. The 30-year-old became the first Stingrays player to appear in all 72 of the team’s regular season games since defenseman Dustin Stevenson in 2011-12. Cherniwchan’s point total (67) was eighth-most in the ECHL this season, while his goal total (29) ranked 12th. His excellent play earned him an appearance in the 2019 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic where his effort on the Eastern Conference roster helped the team win the title in the event. In 216 career ECHL games, all of which have been played for South Carolina during parts of seven seasons, Cherniwchan has scored 170 points on 76 goals and 94 assists, which is 15th most in Stingrays history. His goal total is also ninth in franchise history.
BESSE BRINGS THE GOALSForward Grant Besse, who spent most of the 2018-19 season on loan in South Carolina after signing an AHL contract with the team’s affiliate, the Hershey Bears, was a focal part of the club’s offensive attack. The native of Plymouth, Minn. reached 30 goals for the second consecutive season after posting an even 30 with Norfolk during his rookie year in 2017-18. Besse also matched his point total from a year ago, securing 62 in 60 games with SC. The University of Wisconsin grad turned it on late in the year, totaling nine points in his last eight contests to help the Rays secure a spot in the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs presented by SmileDirectClub.
GAUL COMPLETES SEVENTH SEASON IN THE LOWCOUNTRYForward Patrick Gaul had another special season with the Stingrays, his seventh straight campaign with the club. Among the highlights were a game-winning overtime goal featured as the top play of the night on ESPN’s SportsCenter and his 400th career ECHL game, which have all come as a member of the Stingrays. On the penultimate weekend of the regular season, with SC desperately needing points in the standings, Gaul scored first period goals in back-to-back games and helped keep the team’s postseason hopes alive. The veteran attacker who is affectionately known as the ‘Double Deuce’ in the Lowcountry was able to reach the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the seventh straight year after a 23-point regular season (11 goals, 12 assists) in 58 contests.
YOUNG DEFENSEMEN TURN HEADSSouth Carolina turned to a group of young blueliners late in the 2018-19 campaign, acquiring four rookie defensemen in the final weeks of the season to help them get over the hump and reach the postseason. The biggest impact came from a trade with the Reading Royals to secure Steve Johnson who saw plenty of ice time down the stretch in 20 appearances. Johnson earned seven points (two goals, five assists) that included three power play assists. Three other defensemen began their pro careers with the Rays after their senior collegiate seasons ended in Ryker Killins (Ferris State University), Cameron Heath (Canisius College) and Matt Nuttle (Cornell University). All three of the blueliners earned spots on the team’s postseason roster and suited up for each of SC’s five playoff games.Season tickets for the upcoming 2019-20 season are on sale now! For more information or to purchase, contact the Stingrays by phone at 843-744-2248 or visit StingraysHockey.com.