MANCHESTER, N.H. – It was a defensive battle Saturday night at the SNHU when the visiting South Carolina Stingrays took a 1-0 victory from the Manchester Monarchs.
The Monarchs (28-16-3-1) had no luck cracking the Stingrays’ (31-11-4-1) tight defense in the first meeting of the two squads since last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. To their credit, the Monarchs’ defense was nearly as stingy, but the one goal allowed in the first period would be the difference.
That one goal was scored at the 16:38 mark of the opening period, after Stingray Steven Whitney took a shot that was stonewalled by Monarchs’ goaltender Charles Williams. The puck found the stick of Tim McGauley, who saw the opportunity to slide a pass to Paul Geiger, waiting on the open side of the net. Geiger capitalized on the opportunity behind Williams’s back to make it 1-0. That would be the game winner.
This game was a meeting between the unstoppable force and the immovable object, and the immovable refused to be budged. The Monarchs are the second-highest scoring team in the ECHL, but the Stingrays have let up eight fewer goals than the next best team (the Toledo Walleye, in case you were curious.) This is pretty much their M.O.: the Stingrays have held their opponents to one goal or fewer 16 times this year, and this is their third shutout of the season. And in case anyone was feeling sad about being one of the three, they also blanked ECHL leading Florida earlier this season. Long story short: this team is ridiculous to score against, even for elite teams. Considering this was the first time coach Seeley and company have seen this team in person, things could have been much worse.
Discipline was an issue for both teams, with both sides picking up six power play opportunities on the night. This included a major against Joey Leech of South Carolina and a double minor against Martin Nemcik of the Monarchs. Neither team, however, scored on any of them. Marcus Perrier of the Stingrays also picked up a ten-minute misconduct in the second period.
Williams turned in another one of his signature performances, stopping 28-of-29 shots. Honestly, there’s very little to complain about with Williams in this game. He only had the one bad rebound. It just so happened that the one lousy rebound was all it would take. It happens.
Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman led the offensive attack with five shots on the night, with Keegan Iverson, Matt Marcinew, and the returning Sam Kurker picking up three shots each. The newest Monarch, Jake Wood, also handled himself well in the game, laying down several big hits to try to rally both his team and the crowd.
Not much else to say about a 1-0 game. These are two great teams, and there might be a playoff rematch in the future if they continue with their successes. The Stingrays took round one. Round two comes tonight.
Notes – The Winter Olympics have started in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and that means Olympic hockey. With a new twist in the NHL’s refusal to allow players under NHL contract to compete, opportunities have arisen for players to participate that may not have otherwise. This includes several Monarchs, including Brian O’Neill who I mentioned previously. So, in recognition: your former Monarchs/current Olympians:
O’Neill (Team USA), Patrik Hersley and Oscar Moller (Team Sweeden), Brandon Kozun and Linden Vey (Team Canada), Patrik Bartosak (Team Czech Republic), Vyacheslav Voynov and Nikolai Prokhorkin (Olympic Athletes from Russia.)
Congratulations and good luck to all of these guys.
The Monarchs return to action, looking for revenge against the Stingrays this afternoon. Puck drops at 3:00 pm at the SNHU.