The South Carolina Stingrays pulled off the near impossible the past weekend, sweeping a pair of games in Estero, FL, against the South Division’s first-place club, the Florida Everblades. With the victories, Jared Bednar’s club improved to 14-6-1-1 (30 points), a mere two points behind the ‘Blades.
Facing each other for the first time in over a month, South Carolina and Florida were without several key players lost to AHL recalls. Familiar faces paced the Rays, though, as former University of Maine Black Bear Keith Johnson gave the visitors a first period lead with a power-play marker at 8:22. Nate Kiser elevated SC to a 2-0 advantage in the second, pocketing his first of the campaign at 14:51. The Stingrays added an insurance goal in the third, with Pierre-Luc O’Brien depositing his sixth of the season – a man advantage score – at 10:51. Bobby Goepfert (6-2-1) took care of the rest, stonewalling all 31 shots faced, as the Rays blanked Florida 3-0. Anton Khudobin, the 2007-08 ECHL Goaltender of the Year, suffered the loss with 26 saves. With a lineup that featured just 13 skaters and a goaltender making his ECHL debut, the Stingrays looked to finish off the two-game set with another big win Saturday night at Germain Arena. Travis Morin, who would be a frequent guest on the game’s scoresheet, kicked off the evening’s festivities with an even strength goal at 10:37 of the first, with assists to Ben Boudreau and Johnson. Less than five minutes later, at 15:17, Morin again potted a five-on-five marker to send the Rays into the first intermission with a two-goal lead. South Carolina would erupt in the second stanza, blitzing the Everblades with a four-goal outburst. Matt Scherer made it 3-0, flipping a shot past Florida goalie David Leggio, who was reassigned earlier in the day from Albany. It took 86-plus minutes into the weekend but the ‘Blades managed their first goal at 6:46 of the second, triggering a rain of teddy bears to the ice on Teddy Bear Toss Night. Morin would quickly spoil the fun for Florida and its fans, however, completing his first hat trick of the season just seven seconds later at 6:53. For good measure, the second-year pro out of Minnesota State-Mankato tacked on a fourth marker at 8:25 to make it 5-1. Less than a minute later, though, O’Brien registered his seventh of the season on helpers from Trent Campbell and Scherer. Goals by Hartlieb and Kevin Baker cut the Rays lead in half, but Paul Kelly’s man advantage success at 13:46 of the third ensured a second straight victory over the Everblades. Morin earned a playmaker on the last marker, capping a five-point performance in SC’s 7-3 win. Johnson and Stingrays captain Brad Farynuk each finished with a trio of assists, while Ian Vigier, up from the SPHL’s Columbus Cottonmouths in the wake of Goepfert’s recall to Hershey, turned aside 33 shots in his first ECHL appearance. Leggio allowed four goals while his replacement, Khudobin, yielded three goals on six shots faced. Following a two-week hiatus, the Rays return home this Friday and Saturday, welcoming the Elmira Jackals for their first-ever visit to the North Charleston Coliseum. Elmira is coached by former Bears bruiser Steve Martinson, who holds the club’s single-season penalty minute mark (432 PIMs in 1985-86). SC closes out the weekend with a stop in Charlotte, NC, against the Checkers on Sunday.