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Despite roster turnover, Stingrays streaking

by Brian Compton
For a while there, the South Carolina Stingrays were going through goaltenders faster than a Zdeno Chara slap shot.

Not anymore. Jonathan Boutin has provided the organization with stability since his arrival from the Victoria Salmon Kings in late January, and now coach Jared Bednar's club is primed to go on a serious run in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

Entering Friday's match against Gwinnett, the Stingrays are 7-0-1 in their last eight games. While they won't catch Florida for the South Division title, the Stingrays have certainly picked a heck of a time to play their best hockey.

"We've just kind of settled in," Bednar told "We had some turnover and lost some of our guys and we're still without quite a few of them. Maybe we adjusted our style a little bit. We're playing more of a simple game."

Turnover? More like makeover. South Carolina's success this season -- it currently resides in second place at 38-22-6 -- is somewhat remarkable when you consider that Bednar has been forced to use eight goaltenders.

Eight. Included in that mix was Michal Neuvirth, who has seen time with the Washington Capitals this season. South Carolina is Washington's ECHL affiliate.

"That's a tribute to some of the guys we've brought in," Bednar said. "At the start of the year, we had our two and then we let Josh Johnson go to Gwinnett. Next thing you know, we had Neuvirth in and he and (Bobby) Goepfort were one and two in the league. We lost Neuvirth to Hershey and Goepfort ended up signing a big deal in Austria. I was wondering for while there what we were going to do to survive.

"We were rolling over a goalie every week. When we traded for Jonathan Boutin out of Victoria, we just kind of settled in and started playing the way we needed to to win. It's been a pretty good run."

Still, the large turnover must have been difficult on the rest of the roster, particularly the defensemen. Veteran blueliner Nate Kiser admitted it wasn't easy. Far from it, in fact.

"It was extremely tough," said Kiser, who hopes to return to the lineup on Friday after undergoing elbow surgery last month. "Everybody who came in there did a good job for us. We battled with a lot of injuries and call-ups. But March seems to be our month right now. Everyone in the locker room is excited."

Bednar agreed. With only six games remaining, the Stingrays are clicking at the right time and hope to build off last year's run to the American Conference final.

"We feel pretty good," Bednar said. "Hopefully we can add a couple guys (before the playoffs). I like the group that we have right now. They're playing hard every night. The guys are pretty consistent at what they do. We're sort of a meat-and-potatoes team now. We've turned a corner here at the right time."

One they may have never reached if not for the Boutin deal. It wasn't too long ago when Bednar was forced to pluck Ian Vigier from the Southern Professional Hockey League. To his credit, Vigier held his own. But Bednar knew an upgrade was necessary.

"We've just kind of settled in. We had some turnover and lost some of our guys and we're still without quite a few of them. Maybe we adjusted our style a little bit. We're playing more of a simple game."
-- Stingrays coach Jared Bednar

"This was an unproven kid," Bednar said. "He ended up winning six straight for us. Our team was playing pretty well, but we went through a stint where we weren't playing quite as well. He struggled a little bit. We had a whole bunch of different guys in here. We were looking for someone to give us stability back there. We were able to get Boutin here, and he's been great for us."

The whole team has been great over the last few weeks. Boutin's backup, James Reimer, was named the ECHL Goalie of the Week after posting two victories and a 0.93 goals-against average. Now, it's up the Stingrays to take this momentum into what should be a highly entertaining postseason.

"Around this time last year is when we went on a run," Kiser said. "This is the best time to go on a run, right before playoffs. It just seems like everything's starting to come together at the right time. It's been an extremely long year getting back to this point, but we feel like we can do it."

Around the ECHL -- Bryan McGregor of the Idaho Steelheads was named the Player of the Week after tallying 6 goals and 9 points in just 4 games. ... The Cincinnati Cyclones signed defenseman Kirk Medernach. ... Forward Chase Watson signed with the Wheeling Nailers. ... Stockton forward James Bates was fined and suspended for one game due to a boarding penalty in a game against Victoria last Sunday. ... The Trenton Devils pulled out a 5-3 victory at Cincinnati on Thursday night to move within a point of the first-place Cyclones in the North Division. The top five spots in the North are separated by just three points, and only the first four will make the playoffs.

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