North Charleston, S.C. – The South Carolina Stingrays ground out a 1-0 win over the Greenville Swamp Rabbits Wednesday night at the North Charleston Coliseum. Goaltending and special teams were the difference as the Stingrays improved to 2-1-0-0 on the season. The Stingrays were without the services of defensemen Macoy Erkamps, Jake Massie, and Chaz Reddekopp, who were all placed on the Commissioner’s Exemption List earlier in the week. However, Tariq Hammond returned to the lineup after being released by the Henderson Silver Knights to offset their loss.
The pace was a little slow to start the game as both teams seemed to be feeling each other out. Around the four-minute mark, the Stingrays then started applying hard pressure and never let up the rest of the period.
The pressure created by the Stingrays created a power-play opportunity at the 14:33 mark as Matt Bradley was called for tripping. They needed only 12 seconds to convert the power play opportunity into a goal. Jordan Subban fed a pass to Andrew Cherniwchan on the left circle, and Cherniwchan went cross-ice to Ryan Dmowski, who buried it from the right circle. A few minutes later, the Stingrays appeared to go up 2-0, but Jake Coleman’s tally was waved off for goaltender interference.
The second frame was a defensive showcase for the Stingrays. Their penalty kill unit had to kill three minor penalties in less than seven minutes. Though, the penalty kill unit was up to the task and limited chances by the Swamp Rabbits during the marathon PK session. They went hard on the attack after the third successful penalty kill.
Greenville goalie Evan Fitzpatrick kept the Swamp Rabbits in the game with some stellar play. The atmosphere on the ice was heating up as several scrums broke out in the second period. Things boiled over when Ben Holmstrom and Bradley dropped gloves late in the period. Holmstrom definitely got the better of Bradley during the fight. However, as Holmstrom took Bradley to the ice, it appeared that Bradley hit his helmetless head on the ice. He needed to be helped off the ice by a trainer and teammate. Bradley did not return to the game.
The third period saw both teams settle into a defensive struggle as neither team wanted to give up the next goal. Backchecking and tight formations in the defensive zone for both teams highlighted the play in the period. The Stingrays did have a few breakdowns, but Ryan Bednard stopped everything that the Swamp Rabbits threw his way. South Carolina once again had to rely on their special teams to preserve their lead late in the period. Near the 15 minute mark, the Stingrays had back-to-back mental errors with two delay of game calls that gave Greenville 1:56 of 3-on-5 power-play time. The South Carolina defenders were stout in their defensive zone and limited nearly all chances by the Swamp Rabbits. The Stingrays once again fed off the energy of the penalty kill to pressure Greenville hard in the last few minutes of the game. Even with an extra attacker on the ice during the last minute, the Swamp Rabbits could not maintain sustained pressure in the Stingrays’ zone.
Bednard stopped all 24 shots to earn the shutout over his former team, while Fitzpatrick stopped 27 of 28 in the losing effort. Even with the superb goalie duel occurring on the ice last night, the Stingrays defense stole the show. Being down three key players and still limiting Greenville’s scoring chances the way they did was impressive. Subban let one go from near the blue line in the first period; that was probably the hardest shot I have seen since Josh Godfrey or Michal Cajkovsky was on the backend for the Stingrays. Hammond and Subban seemed to work really well together as a pairing, and the rest of the defense worked just as hard all night.
The Stingrays are rapidly establishing their identity as a hard-working blue-collar team. The incredible work on the penalty kill last night could be a defining moment for this team in terms of identity. Players have no issues engaging opponents that spend too much time in the crease or bump their netminder. But the changes aren’t just in the defensive zone. This is a team that seems to win faceoffs with ease. There are several players who can control and move the puck effectively in the faceoff circle. The increase in puck handling skills is also readily apparent on this team. For this early in the season, as players are still getting used to new linemates, passes are generally on target and played with an eye on moving the puck forward offensively. It’s only three games into the season for South Carolina, but I think fans and the organization should be happy with what they are seeing on the ice.
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