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ECHL: Stingrays survive debilitating injury crunch

Friday, 12.21.2007 / 4:26 PM / ECHL Report

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Not long ago the South Carolina Stingrays appeared to be in trouble.

A couple of injuries on the Stingrays blue line left the team with just four defensemen, which was a major reason for a six-game losing streak. South Carolina was two games under .500 and it could have been assumed that there was no confidence in the dressing room.

But that wasn't the case.

South Carolina Stingrays head coach Jared Bednar led his team through a recent spate of injuries.
Coach Jared Bednar, who is in his first year with the Stingrays, kept reminding his team that it was only a break or bounce away from reversing its fortunes.

All of the sudden, the Stingrays' defense has gotten healthy, the bounces have suddenly gone their way and all four lines are clicking.
   
The result? A seven-game winning streak.

The Stingrays are undefeated in December and haven't lost since Nov.27, when they dropped a 5-3 decision at Mississippi.
 
South Carolina looks to win eight in a row Friday night when they host the Pensacola Ice Pilots in the second of back-to-back games. Wednesday the Stingrays took the first game against Pensacola with a 6-1 victory.
   
"To be honest, I didn't feel we were playing that bad when we were on the skid," said Bednar. "We out-shot a lot of teams; we had lots of scoring opportunities. It just seemed like all of our goal scorers got snake-bit at the same time. We were playing in that streak with four, sometimes five, defensemen. That hurt us. The guys got a little tired late in games and weren't able to defend."
   
Despite South Carolina's troubles, both Bednar and captain Cail MacLean said there were no closed-door meetings because the Stingrays felt they would recover once their injured players returned.

It turns out they were right.
   
"We talked it out a few times," said MacLean, who has 16 points in 19 games and is one of the top ECHL leaders. "As we were in that slump, we really didn't feel like we were playing that badly. It was tough for us to win because we were sort of shorthanded. We were out-shooting teams, but it just seemed like we weren't getting any bounces. We were working hard every night."

Nonetheless, MacLean admitted it was difficult to work as hard as the Stingrays were during such a bad slump. He believes the team's character is the biggest reason why South Carolina was able to turn its play around in such dramatic fashion.

"It was tough," MacLean said. "It'll happen for a couple of games in a row, but all of a sudden you get to three, four, five games in a row and you just feel like whenever the other team scores a goal, you just feel like, how hard is it to win every night? We dominate in their end for seven or eight minutes, and they get one bounce and score. It was tough with a young team to keep guys going. But I've got to give them all credit because they really did keep plugging along."
 
Bednar believes his team learned to stick to the basics following the slump.

"Obviously, we're hungry and the slump is still fresh in our memories," Bednar said. "No one really enjoyed it, that's for sure. It's a fine line, and I think our guys realize that. Obviously, when you're winning you're having a little more fun. I think the guys are playing well, but I thought they were playing pretty well during the skid."
   
Despite the winning streak, the Stingrays are experiencing difficulty in gaining ground in a tight South Division.

The first-place Texas Wildcatters are 12-0-3 in their last 15 games and have a nine-point lead on the second-place Gwinnett Gladiators. South Carolina currently sits in fifth place, 17 points behind Texas.
   
With more than 45 games remaining, Bednar is confident that the Stingrays can move up the standings.

"It is a little bit frustrating," Bednar said. "Obviously, Texas and Gwinnett are doing really well in our division. But we just had nine days off and didn't really lose any ground in the standings. The standings have really tightened up. Now, we're holding a few games in hand, and I know we're going to make those up in January. But we can only worry about what we're doing and play as best as we can and see where we end up at the end of the year."
   
MacLean said it's difficult to not concede the division to Texas, which has lost two regulation games all season.

The Wildcatters reeled off six-straight victories since Dec. 2 when they dropped a 3-2 decision to Gwinnet.
   
"When you look at it, it seems like they're creating quite a gap over all of us," MacLean said. "But you never know. If we can continue to win and get on a good run here you'd like to think that every team's going to have its bad moments throughout the year. Things can even out in the end."

Things have certainly improved in South Carolina.
   
All-Star Rosters Announced

The ECHL announced the American and National Conference rosters for next month's All-Star Game in Stockton, Calif.
   
The American Conference starters: G Craig Kowalski, Gwinnett (11-3-1, 2.25 GAA); D Jamie Milam, Gwinnett (8-11-19); D Bryan Rodney, Elmira (7-14-21); F John McNabb, Texas (13-23-36); F Yannick Tifu, Dayton (8-34-42); F Aaron Slattengren, Augusta (20-12-32).
   
To see the entire American Conference roster, click here.
   
The National Conference starters: G Julien Ellis, Victoria (9-2-1, 2.89 GAA); D Darrell Hay, Idaho (5-11-16); D Bryan Miller (5-13-18); F Ash Goldie, Victoria (15-13-28); F Peter Ferraro, Las Vegas (13-18-31); F Greg Rallo, Idaho (14-15-29).
   
To view the entire National Conference roster, click here.
   
Brian Compton can be e-mailed at: bcompton@nhl.com
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