NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The South Carolina Stingrays won their home opener over the Orlando Solar Bears 4-2 in front of a lively crowd of 7,543. Rain from Tropical Storm Nestor had forced the cancellation of several pre-game activities, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd inside the North Charleston Coliseum. Steve Bergin won his first home game as a head coach and has the Stingrays on a three-game win streak to start the season.
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The Stingrays defense started off the game in dominant fashion, holding the Solar Bears without a shot on goal for the first five minutes of the game.
Mark Cooper opened the scoring for the Stingrays on the power play with assists from Cole Ully and Dan DeSalvo at the 6:58 mark of the first period. Orlando took advantage of an errant pass and pulled even at 15:27 in the first off of a goal by Ryan Lohin. The Stingrays battled back and, in the first reviewed goal at home, went back ahead 2-1 off of a shot by Cam Askew that trickled through the five-hole of Spencer Martin. Assists on the goal went to Dylan Steman and Max Novak.
The second period got off to a quick start as DeSalvo scored just 1:05 into the period with assists going to Cooper and Andrew Cheniwchan. The game went back and forth for the next ten minutes as both teams tried to gain the upper hand. With Orlando trying to kill off a double minor, Cherniwchan scored the team’s second power-play goal of the evening off of a quick release wrist shot assisted by Max Novak and Tom Parisi at 12:24. With the Stingrays up by three, the tenor of the game started to change. The next several minutes saw an increase in physical play. Chris LeBlanc brought the Solar Bears back within two as he beat Parker Milner glove side from above the right circle. Kris Bindulis showcased his speed when he broke up a 2 on 0 in the second period. He sprinted from the benchside boards to between the circles to get stick and body position on the Solar Bear with the puck and prevent a pass or a shot. Without his outstanding individual effort, it would have been a Grade-A scoring chance on Milner.
The third period was a back and forth affair without either team gaining dominance. Both goalies made some outstanding saves and, once again, the Stingrays defense stood strong. Orlando had their goalie pulled for almost the entire last four minutes of the game and even had a power play for two of those minutes. However, Milner and the defensive play of the Stingrays were up to the task and held Orlando to only five shots on goal the entire third period.
South Carolina went 2-for-6 on the power play and was perfect on their two penalty kills. Milner stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced while the Stingrays put four of their 38 shots in the back of the net. Four players had multi-point games as Cheniwchan, Cooper and DeSalvo each had a goal and an assist and Novak earned two assists on the night. Askew got his first goal of the year and Ully, Parisi and Steman all picking up assists on the night.
The team looks fairly sharp for this point in the season. The experience and maturity of the players really shows on the ice. They seem to have more poise and control over their individual games. Puck handling is smooth and deliberate and not rushed. Additionally, there doesn’t seem to be any hesitation in going to the front of the net. Players are putting themselves in a position to score and it is paying off.
Eight players are averaging a point a game or better after three games. With the top line of Cheniwchan, Cooper and DeSalvo all having five points apiece so far. The only slight criticism that the team might face is that six of seven goals scored against them have occurred in the last five minutes of periods.
Top to bottom, I believe this team is as good as there is in the ECHL at this point of the season. Injuries and call ups will eventually happen but the depth of the bench players gives credence to the belief that the team will continue to produce no matter who is in the lineup on a nightly basis.
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