WHEELING - It is said that it's always best to let a sleeping bear lie, but poking an already agitated one?
Well, the South Carolina Stingrays found out that's one of the worst ideas of all time.
Though they insist the only award they care about is the one that could have their names carved in it in a couple months, the Wheeling Nailers were still miffed when the ECHL handed out its honors at the end of the regular season. Mike Ratchuk was named second team all-league and finished third in the Defenseman of the Year voting, but nobody else was recognized.
On its own, the perceived snubs provided a sizable chip on the club's collective shoulder. But when the Nailers felt disrespected by comments Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery made to a South Carolina newspaper, that chip became a boulder.
What really threw gasoline on the fire was Stingrays forward Marc Hagel firing pucks in Chaz Johnson's direction during Friday's morning skate at WesBanco Arena.
''I am the type of person that I show them respect until they disrespect me,'' Johnson said. ''They want to say they dominated us. What game? Third game we didn't play our game but they didn't do anything special. Mike Condon stood on his head
''Game 1 we were all over them and Game 2 we were all over them.
''Then they are over there trying to call us soft. Have you looked at our lineup? Come on. Let's be real.''
Having been on the other side playing for teams that had to travel to Wheeling, Johnson is as qualified as any to comment on the subject. Johnson has heard the insults for years, but insists he has never bought into them.
''Nobody wants to come to Wheeling and they talk bad about the city and they want to talk bad about our team,'' he said. ''You know, we're going to take it one round at a time and stick together as a team, an organization and as a family, and go out there and play the way we know how to play - solid hockey and let teams know who we are.
''I am happy that is done and over with. Our mentality was to come out hard and give it to them and end this thing. When you have a team that comes in and shows you no type of respect, you've got to put that team away early.''
As if all that were not enough, most throughout the ECHL community believed this series wouldn't last all that long, but that third-seeded South Carolina, and not No. 6 Wheeling would be the team to advance. Forward Christiaan Minella has some advice for those who don't believe.
''No matter what the other team says, if they don't respect us then we're going to come out and run over them,'' he said. ''If we don't get some respect for taking out the third seed and sweeping them .... they can think what they want, but we know we've got a special group of guys.''
That includes Condon, whose season was easily worthy of recognition. Fresh out of college, the rookie was aware of what he alluded to as Wheeling's former reputation.
''Everyone always hears about Wheeling and in the past it's had kind of a bad rap,'' he said. ''This place is awesome and the guys love it here.
''We call ourselves the misfits and it's kind of a galvanizing aspect of our locker room, and it's something that is pretty hard to break right now.
''We didn't pay attention much to what they had to say or the awards and all. What's going on in that locker room is what's important.''
Sahir Gill, who led the Nailers in scoring as a rookie, said Condon should have won ''something,'' and admits the outside stuff, though not inherently all that important, has certainly caught the team's attention.
''It adds a chip to our shoulders, sure, that we have something to prove,'' he said. ''We've all kind of laughed all year that we're a team of misfits. Whatever that means, it has kind of worked for us.
''We're looking for something bigger.''
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org