NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The South Carolina Stingrays completed a weekend sweep of the Jacksonville Icemen with a 5-1 win on Saturday night at the North Charleston Coliseum. Ten players picked up points, and there were five different goal scorers on the night for the Stingrays. Zach Fucale was stellar in net, holding the Icemen to a single goal on the 36 shots he faced. They stood strong in the third period, facing two penalty kills in the last five minutes of the game to deny Jacksonville a chance to get back into the game.
The first period was a fast back-and-forth affair that featured lots of sharp passing and brilliant saves by Fucale and Icemen’s netminder Kyle Keyser. The only scoring of the period was on a miscue by Jacksonville. After a dump-in by the Stingrays, Keyser came out of the net to play the puck, and it came off of his glove at the same time that defenseman Michael Kim arrived at the puck. In an apparent miscommunication, it appeared that Kim thought Keyser would let him have the puck while Keyser went for a coverup. The players collided, and Cole Ully was left in front of the empty net with the puck for the easy goal.
— SC Stingrays (@SCStingrays) December 19, 2020
The second period was much the same as the first. Lots of puck movement by both teams with excellent chances stopped by the goalies. The only scoring in the middle stanza came off a stretch pass from Macoy Erkamps to Justin Florek at 8:09 of the frame. Erkamps saw the Florek had gotten behind the defense and hit Florek on a long pass. The former NHLer was 1-on-1 with Keyser and beat him with a backhand to put the Stingrays up 2-0.
— SC Stingrays (@SCStingrays) December 20, 2020
The start of the third period saw a big push from Jacksonville as they tried to get back into the game. The Stingrays’ defense was strong, with multiple forwards and defensemen blocking shots to preserve the lead. Jacksonville’s aggressive play led to holes in their defense, and Andrew Cherniwchan and Mason Morelli scored at 8:15 and 12:00, respectively, to put the Stingrays up 4-0.
The Jacksonville Icemen kept their pressure up, and it paid off when Mike Szmatula got one past Fucale at 13:47 of the third. Jacksonville had back-to-back power plays in the final five minutes but was stymied by the Stingrays’ penalty kill. The Stingrays added a fifth goal at 18:58 when Max Novak and Dylan Steman found themselves on a 2-1 breakaway with an empty net. Novak had an angle but selflessly passed over to Steman, wide open for the easy goal.
The Stingrays have to be happy with their performance over the weekend. Goaltending, defense, and scoring were all working for the team. They played strong through the games holding the Icemen scoreless in the first two periods of each game.
The only question early in the season is the Stingrays power play. They are 0 for 16 in three games. The power play has looked better structured, and they have held the puck in the zone for extended periods when on the power play, but they have not been able to convert.
Overall, the Stingrays are in great shape. They are tops in the league through three games, only allowing 1.67 goals per game while averaging three goals per game. While they are allowing more shots through than past teams, so far, the goaltending has been up to the challenge, and the Stingrays look to have picked up where they left off last year.
Travis Rogers covers the South Carolina Stingrays for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with him @SinBinStingrays.