When South Carolina Stingrays winger Tyler McNeely learned that Hunter Bishop was returning to the Lowcountry from the American Hockey League, he admitted he had mixed emotions.
Part of McNeely was sad that Bishop, who had been with the Rochester Americans, wouldn’t be remaining in the AHL. But there was another part of him that couldn’t have been happier to have his old linemate back on the ice.
Bishop scored two goals and McNeely added a goal and two assists to lead South Carolina past Orlando, 5-2, Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 3,164 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays, who beat the Solar Bears in back-to-back games over the weekend, are back to .500 with a 22-22-4 (48 points) overall record. Orlando fell to 19-23-4 (42 points).
It had been more than three weeks since Bishop and McNeely had played on the same line. Since the end of the NHL lockout, both had spent some time up in the AHL — Bishop with Lake Erie and Rochester, and McNeely in Providence.
“Obviously, Hunter and Tyler are a huge part of this team,” said Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery.
“We’re not the most dynamic offensive team in the league, so having those two guys in the lineup is a big, big part of what we do offensively. It’s not a huge surprise that we struggle when they’re not in the lineup.”
When Bishop returned from Rochester on Saturday morning and saw McNeely waiting for him in the locker room, he admitted it was hard not to suppress a smile.
“When one of your linemates gets called up, you’re really happy for them,” Bishop said. “But on the ice, it’s like one of your hands is gone or one of your legs. It’s tough. You’re happy they’re up in the American League, but no question you miss him. I got to admit there was a part of me that was happy to see Tyler back down here.”
It didn’t take long for the old chemistry to return for Bishop and McNeely.
“It was bittersweet to get sent down,” McNeely said. “You’re disappointed that you can’t stick in the American League, but I know coming back that Hunter’s here and I know how well we play together. It was back to the old routine.”
There was nothing routine about McNeely and Bishop’s performances over the last two games.
The two were reunited Saturday night during the Stingrays’ 9-3 victory over the Solar Bears. In the last two games against Orlando, Bishop has three goals and two assists, while McNeely has two goals and four assists. McNeely leads the team in scoring this season with 44 points on 13 goals and 31 assists, while Bishop is second with 19 goals and 20 assists.
“Once you get on the ice, you know where the other guy is going to be and what’s he’s going to do,” Bishop said. “The toughest thing about pro hockey is that your team, especially at this level, seems to change every day. That’s why I feel so fortunate to have Tyler out there on my line. It’s just very easy to play with him.”
Leading 1-0 after the first period, the Stingrays broke open the game with four goals in the second period, from Bishop, Chris Langkow, McNeely and Matt Beca.
The Stingrays were 2 of 4 on the power play and finished the three-game weekend with seven goals with the man advantage.
Orlando 0 1 1—2
South Carolina 1 4 1—5
First Period: 1. SC, Bishop 18 (McNeely, Quick), 15:06 (PP). Penalties: Tanski, O (tripping), 10:01; Sisca, O (tripping), 14:45. Second Period: 2. SC, Langkow 16 (Quick, Vaughan), 10:57 (PP). 3. SC, Bishop 19 (McNeely, Bidlevskii), 11:47. 4. SC, McNeely 13 (Dee, Cherniwchan), 15:19. 5. O, Severyn 12 (Sisca, Liambas), 16:54. 6, SC, Beca 10 (unassisted), 18:48. Penalties:Gaul, Sc (high-sticking), 4:58; Baldwin, O (roughing), 10:46.
Third Period: 7. O, Neal 5 (Mignardi, Lawrence), 3:05 (PP). Penalties: Courtnall, SC (boarding - major, game misconduct - boarding), 2:38; Mangan, SC (hooking), 13:49; Severyn, O (roughing), 18:15. Shots on Goal: Stingrays 5-14-3-22; Orlando: 6-10-9-25. Penalties: Stingrays 4-19; Orlando 4-8. Power Play: Stingrays 2 for 4; Orlando 1 for 4. Goalies: Stingrays – Ryan Zapolski (15-8-0) 25 shots, 23 saves. Orlando – John Curry (17-11-2) 15 shots, 11 saves. Patrick Killeen (3-6-2) 7 shots, 6 saves. Att: 3,164.