NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – You always have to be ready; you have to be prepared to answer the call for your team. With a depleted lineup, the South Carolina Stingrays (7-1-3-0) gutted out a shootout victory over the Greenville Swamp Rabbits (4-3-3-2) on Saturday evening. The Stingrays were without the majority of their top forwards and put together a game-time roster of 9 forwards and 7 defensemen. The players on the ice played with chips on their shoulders all night. This game, by far, was the most physical group effort of the season. Fans could sense that players were playing hard with their backs against the wall and were making a case to improve their standings in the depth charts.
The Stingrays started off the scoring with a power-play goal at 16:35 of the 1st period when Darien Craighead guided in a pass from Justin Florek. Max Gottlieb had the secondary assist. Greenville then scored twice on the power play in the second period with goals from Liam Pecararo and Matt Wedman to take the lead. However, the Stingrays scored a second power-play goal at 18:01 of the second to tie things up heading into the second intermission. Craighead cycled a pass down low to Jesse Lees, who sent the puck into the crease where Cam Askew was able to drive it into the twine.
The third period was a very physical frame, with both teams seeking dominance on the ice more than the scoreboard. Jordan Klimek scored off of a pass from Florek and Frederick Letourneau. Momentum stayed with the Stingrays as they dominated almost all of the third frame until a slew of penalties at the 16:04 and 17:32 marks had the teams playing 4 on 4 hockey. A broken play ended up with Greenville on a 2-on-1 breakaway where Matt Bradley tied the game at 17:59 of regulation.
The teams were visibly settled down in the overtime period, with the pace being much slower and very deliberate. Neither team was taking chances with the puck. In the seven minutes of overtime, each team put a surprisingly low three shots on goal. Goaltender John Lethemon played well for the Swamp Rabbits, stopping 42 of 45 shots, including two that required video review.
It took a shootout to ultimately decide the game. Lethemon stopped Caleb Herbert in the first round of the shootout, denying him low. However, Mason Morelli scored in the second round, and Askew had a chance to win it in the 3rd frame but rang iron. But on the other end of the ice, Stringray’s goalie Alex Dubeau put up a brick wall and stopped all three attempts by Greenville to cement the win.
The Stingrays played passionate hockey, and it paid off. They answered Greenville’s physical play and found ways to score, including the power play, which went 2 for 5 on the evening. Several of the depth players, who are now getting regular minutes, made themselves noticeable on the ice all evening. Craighead is turning out to be a difference-maker and a great find for the Stingrays. Letourneau played with a slight edge to his game and got under the skin of several Greenville players. Connor Moore looked at ease most of the game and made several excellent plays to keep the puck from crossing the blue line and keep play alive in the offensive zone.
Several players are making the case that they deserve more minutes on the ice. As players get healthy and return to the lineup, head coach Ryan Blair will have to make some hard decisions about who plays and where they go. Players that may have been written off a month ago as 4th liners and depth players are showing that they can play and produce at this level.
The Monday matinee game hosting the Jacksonville Icemen has been postponed. Team president Rob Concannon made the announcement Sunday morning stating,
“Out of an abundance of caution due to COVID-19 protocols, the South Carolina Stingrays game versus the Jacksonville Icemen on Monday will be postponed. The Stingrays organization continues to adhere to all local and state mandates to ensure the health and safety of our players, staff, and working personnel.”
This is the first game in the South Division to face postponement under the COVID protocols. A make-up date will be added later in the season.
Travis Rogers covers the South Carolina Stingrays for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @SinBinStingrays.
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