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Stingrays enjoying some rare time off

by Brian Compton /

South Carolina rookie forward Marty Guerin has
been on a scoring tear for the Stingrays so far in
the ECHL Playoffs with nine points in 10 games.
The South Carolina Stingrays won't know who their opponent will be in the South Division Final until the conclusion of Friday's game between the Texas Wildcatters and Columbia Inferno.

Right now, they couldn't care less. They're just happy to have a night off.

After going the distance in back-to-back series victories against the Augusta Lynx and Gwinnett Gladiators, the Stingrays are happy to have a few days to relax. When it was all said and done, the Stingrays had played 10 games in a two-week span.

And both times, the Stingrays found themselves in do-or-die situations. They came back from a 2-0 series deficit to beat the Lynx in five before giving up a 2-0 series lead to the Gladiators, only to win the decisive Game 5, 2-0, Wednesday night at the North Charleston Coliseum.

"It's been a stressful couple of weeks," first-year Stingrays coach Jared Bednar told "Starting that first series (against Augusta), down 2-0 and battling back, and then letting a 2-0 lead slip away going into Gwinnett wasn't any more relaxing. It felt good to get that win and finally get a couple of days off. We've played 10 playoff games in 14 nights with 18 guys."

Fortunately for Bednar, his team possesses a lot of weapons. Rookie forward Marty Guerin – who was more of a defensive specialist in the Gwinnett series – has racked up nine points (five goals, four assists) in 10 games this postseason. While one might be surprised a rookie would lead South Carolina in scoring two rounds into the playoffs, Bednar isn't one of them.

"It doesn't really surprise me," he said of Guerin's output. "He does a lot of things for us. He kills penalties, he plays the point on the power play. He's amongst our team leaders in ice time. His line really carried us in the Augusta series. Marty's an intelligent player."

The hectic schedule is something new for Guerin. The 24-year-old – who was a ninth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2003 – spent the past four seasons at Miami (Ohio) University, where he never had to endure the type of schedule the Stingrays were just forced to play. Nonetheless, his performance this postseason likely has opened some eyes amongst American Hockey League clubs.

"It's been interesting," Guerin said. "In college you play two games a week. We just played 10 games in 14 days. It's pretty intense, but there's so much adrenaline that you have energy for every game."

South Carolina's goaltenders certainly have had energy, mainly because Bednar has kept them fresh. Despite winning the first two games of the Gwinnett series, veteran netminder Davis Parley watched Games 3 and 4 in favor of rookie Josh Johnson. The Stingrays dropped those games in Gwinnett before Bednar went back to Parley for the Game 5 victory.

The roles had been reversed in the opening round against Augusta. Parley was between the pipes for the two losses to the Lynx, while Johnson earned three victories.

"Johnson had played so good in the Augusta series," Bednar said when asked why he switched goalies after building a 2-0 series lead against Gwinnett. "Parley played the first two games of the Augusta series, and we were down 0-2, and then Johnson came in and won all three. Johnson had kind of tweaked his neck a little bit and we only had one day off before we went at it with Gwinnett. I think Davis would even admit he didn't play his best games (against Gwinnett), even though he won them both. He got a lot of help. We had five goals in each of the first two games.

"His line really carried us in the Augusta series. Marty's an intelligent player." -- Stingrays coach Jared Bednar
"I'm a firm believer that you need two (goalies) in the playoffs, especially with our schedule. Now things will slow down, and we may be able to ride a guy if he's hot. But I'm glad we have two capable go-to guys."

Bednar remains undecided as to how he'll handle his goaltending in the next series, but first things first – he still needs to know which team his Stingrays will be facing, which he'll find out tonight. A Columbia victory would send Texas home for the summer after the Wildcatters won 52 games during the regular season. The Inferno finished 33-28-11.

"Columbia's a really good team," Guerin said. "They didn't finish that high in the standings, but they're a solid team. I'm not surprised, but I think Texas might be a little surprised. Everybody on our team expected it to be a pretty good series.

"We've had success against both teams. If there's any advantage (in playing Columbia), I guess it'd be not having to make that awful drive all the way to Texas."

Around the ECHL – After knocking off the Elmira Jackals in the opening round, the Reading Royals earned a 5-3 win against the Cincinnati Cyclones in Game 1 of the North Division Final on Thursday night. Cincinnati, which swept Johnstown in the first round, had 115 points during the regular season. The teams meet for Game 2 Saturday. … The Las Vegas Wranglers eliminated the Stockton Thunder in their first-round series in six games. Las Vegas will face the Alaska Aces in a best-of-seven National Conference Semifinal series, which begins tonight in Sin City. … A shorthanded goal in overtime of Game 6 on Tuesday night gave the Victoria Salmon Kings a first-round series win against the Bakersfield Condors. Victoria begins a best-of-seven conference semifinal series tonight with the Utah Grizzlies, who knocked off the Fresno Falcons in the opening round.
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