Hockey Is Happening: Stingrays Fall, 3-2 in Season Opener

Posted December 11, 2020

Brian Stone/South Carolina Stingrays

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — The South Carolina Stingrays, ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, began the season with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits on Friday night.

The game had a sense of normalcy to it in a year that has been anything but. The North Charleston Coliseum, compliant with local regulations, was allowed to open its door to 2,700 fans instead of its normal 7,500. The announced crowd was a sellout. Last season, the Stingrays averaged 4,200 fans.

“That’s great support from our fans,” second-year Stingray Cole Ully said. “To fill the seats as much as they can, especially with times being the way they are.”

The temperature outside the North Charleston Coliseum reached a high of 70 degrees, not uncommon for an opening night. Except opening night usually occurs in mid-October, not mid-December. 

Pockets of red and navy blue jerseys were still prevalent. But rather than being congregated behind the nets and around center ice, they were scattered throughout the arena to accommodate social distancing. 

Fans still cheered their home town and heckled their cross-state rivals. The cheers and jeers seemingly unmuffled by the mandatory face masks. 

Fans flooded the concourse after a scoreless first period for refreshments. But rather than the typical basket, the food came in a pre-packaged styrofoam boxes. 

“It’s not really on until the puck drops tonight,” Ully said. “As soon as it did, it kind of feels normal out there again.”

After almost 27 minutes of hockey, South Carolina found the back of the net. 

Max Novak finished a tic-tac-toe passing play to give the home side the lead.  Caleb Herbert and Ully got the assists on a perfectly-executed odd-man-rush. 

The visitors quickly responded. Less than three minutes later, Greenville was on the board. Rookie goalie Hunter Shepard, who made his professional debut, saved a bad angle shot from Matt Wedman, but was unable to locate the rebound. Bryan Moore found the loose puck and was able to poke it pass Shepard to tie the game with 11:53 to go in the middle frame. 

After some big hits and back-and-forth shoving, the bitter rivals opened their fighting major accounts a little less than halfway through regulation. The only abnormal thing about the fight was how long it took for there to be one.

Macoy Erkamps for the home side and Joey Haddad for the visitors were the combatants. The result was a decisive takedown for Erkamps and it sent the crowd onto its feet. 

Hockey was officially back in the Low Country. 

“It’s good to be back playing hockey,” first-year head coach Ryan Blair said.

The 1-1 score is how the middle frame ended with each team squandering power play opportunists. The teams ended the second 0/6 on the power play for the night.

The third period followed the trend. The lone referee continued to call penalties. At one point, each team had 21 PIMs, which was more than the amount of shots they had taken. The teams were still unable to score on the power play, but kept firing shots at the net.   Each team found the back of the net once, and the game went to overtime with a 2-2 tie. 

Both teams had chances in the extra session, but ultimately the visitors prevailed.

The Stingrays lost at home in the first game of the season. They only lost nine times in 28 games at home last season.

For a moment, it seemed as if things were back to normal. But outside the rink, they are anything but.

“Nothing is really normal right now,” Jordan Klimek said. “There’s a variety of precautions we have to take. But it felt [like] a step in the right direction.