NORTH CHARLESTON, SC- The South Carolina Stingrays opened their 2021-22 campaign in front of 5,027 raucous fans at the North Charleston Coliseum with a 4-2 win over the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. The energetic crowd was treated to an exciting game featuring spectacular saves, highlight-reel goals, and bone-jarring hits. The Stingrays stated before the game that they wanted to establish their new identity quickly. Without a doubt, this is a team that is not afraid to mix it up to get the job done.
The first period set the tempo for the Stingrays. The first 14 minutes of the frame belonged to South Carolina as it controlled the tempo and put up several quality shots. Greenville finally found its footing and started pushing back with about six minutes remaining. There had been several big hits laid out earlier in the period when Alex Brink drew a bead on a Greenville player trying to exit the zone and drew a charging penalty on the resulting collision.
A minute into the penalty kill, Justin Florek gained control of the puck and moved it up to Jake Massie for a clearance attempt. Massie quickly read the play and found Andrew Cherniwchan for a breakaway. The Stingrays’ Captain deftly roofed a backhander past John Lethemon to open the scoring on the evening at the 1:33 mark. Things continued to stay heated on the ice and Bradley and Jade Miller got caught up at the benches, with Bradley getting called for a cross-checking minor as the period ended.
Even with the power play to start the second period, the Stingrays were outplayed for much of the first half of the second period. Greenville had the Rays on their heels and Hunter Shepard had to make several saves to keep the Stingrays in the game. He was assisted in his efforts twice by the posts as Greenville kept the pressure up. Ben Freeman finally solved Shepard at the 9:38 mark with assists by Gavin Gould and Christian Kasastul.
The Stingrays responded quickly and pulled back ahead 2-1 on a brilliant wrap-around goal by Massie. Jordan Subban fed the puck up the left side to Massie, who then took it down and around to get his first goal as a Stingray. Things kept heating up on the ice as Subban was called for his second cross-check of the frame at 16:22 and two separate Swamp Rabbits refused to drop gloves after being challenged by Subban. After the penalty kill, Ryan Dmowski and Bryce Reddick exchanged some hits on the boards and agreed to settle their differences with a bout near center ice. Dmowski was the clear winner in the scrap as he landed a few big hits and took Reddick to the ground. Dmowski pumped up the crowd on his way to the box and they responded in kind with a level of cheering normally reserved for postseason overtime goals.
The Stingrays did not repeat their mistake of a slow start when the third period got underway. The Stingrays applied extreme pressure and were rewarded with a goal 31 seconds into the frame. Lawton Courtnall took a pass from Nate Pionk and worked his way around the right circle only to find himself bumped off his skates. Courtnall never gave up on the play and kept possession of the puck and sent it hard to the net as he slid on his knees and went sprawling on the ice. The puck had enough force to navigate its way to the back of the net.
Courtnall continued to dictate play to start the third period as he went hard after a puck that was clearly going to be icing. He caught the Greenville defender offguard as he went after the puck and drew a holding penalty to further keep the Swamp Rabbits on the defensive. Things on the ice almost boiled over again when Matt Bradley appeared to go high on a hit with Brink. Brink took extreme exception to the hit and drew a double minor for roughing as he continued to go after Bradley.
The period then settled into more of a back and forth affair that saw both teams with several quality chances. The Swamp Rabbits were throwing as many shots on net as they could but Shepard was up to the task. Only when Greenville added an extra attacker did they finally get their second of the night past Shepard as Dallas Gerads got the goal with Kevin McKernan and Brett Kemp earning the assists.
Greenville wasn’t ready to concede yet as it went with an extra attacker again and tried to tie the game. Courtnall received the puck from Miller and found himself just past center ice with a chance to clear the puck but inexplicably the Greenville defenders around him went either for a change or down the ice to play the puck. The young forward found himself with several seconds to collect his thoughts and sent in an empty netter from just past the redline with 42 seconds left in the game to finalize the score at 4-2.
Shepard had 40 saves on 42 shots and looked in midseason form. Lethemon saved 27-of-30 in the losing effort. The Stingrays defense bent a few times but did not break. Subban and Massie were very noticeable in their play on the back end. The young forwards looked at ease along with the veteran players and as a whole, the forward corps generated several quality chances over the course of the night.
Overall the Stingrays looked solid for the majority of the night and when they didn’t, Shepard bailed them out. The shots allowed may be a small point of concern for the team but I would have to imagine that the team would be pleased with the result and their overall effort on opening night. The team came out with a physical edge to their game and backed it up with quality scoring chances and, most importantly, the win. These two teams do not seem to care for each other very much. It will be interesting to see how that animosity builds as Greenville will be the only team the Stingrays see over the next two contests.
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