South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery was going over the final few reminders in the Stingrays locker room before Saturday night's game with Greenville when he paused for a moment and told the players he had one more person that wanted to talk with the team.
From around the corner, country music star and Hootie & the Blowfish co-founder Darius Rucker stepped into view.
The Charleston native and Middleton High School graduate wished the Stingrays luck and had a couple of words of encouragement as the team took the ice.
Minutes later, Rucker belted out an inspired National Anthem to get the crowd of more than 7,600 going at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays did their part as well, as Peter Boyd recorded his first hat trick of the season and goalie David LeNeveu stopped all 25 shots he faced to lead the Stingrays past Greenville, 3-0, Saturday night.
The Stingrays, who were looking to rebound after a lackluster effort in a 4-0 loss to Gwinnett Friday night, improved to 24-6-3 (51 points) and became the first team in the ECHL to break the 50-point barrier this season. The Road Warriors fell to 14-15-3 (31 points).
All in all it was a near-perfect night for the Stingrays and their fans, some 2,000 of whom were lucky enough to carry home a Darius Rucker bobblehead.
"This was a big night for us as a team and for the organization," Carbery said. "A lot of work behind the scenes from our office staff and president Rob Concannon went into making things go smoothly tonight with Darius, and he was very generous with his time."
Even some of the most jaded players couldn't help but be impressed with Rucker's presence in the locker room.
"It was pretty cool having (Rucker) come into the locker room and wish us luck," said Boyd, who recorded his 10th, 11th and 12th goals of the season. "We took a team picture with him and I think that got everyone going. The crowd was fantastic. We kind of fed off their energy and thankfully we sent them home with a win."
LeNeveu spent most of Saturday in Boston's Logan Airport, waiting for his flight to finally take off for the Lowcountry. Nearly two feet of snow had been dumped in the Northeast, which brought the airport to a near standstill as there were thousands of weary travelers stranded. LeNeveu's day began at 5:15 a.m. and didn't end until well after 10 p.m.
"It's been a long day, but I kind of figured it would be," said LeNeveu, who improved to 4-3-0 on the season. "I don't think I've seen that many people in an airport ever. It's not ideal to travel on the same day you are playing, but I'm used to it. It's all about your mental approach."
LeNeveu had spent the better part of the last week with the Providence Bruins, the Stingrays' American Hockey League affiliate. He hadn't played in a game since a 3-2 loss to Gwinnett the day after Christmas.
The layoff didn't show on the ice.
"That's the best I've felt all season, but getting a shutout isn't about one player," LeNeveu said. "Everyone has to do their jobs. The guys were great in front of me."
Boyd took care of the offense, recording the first hat trick of the season by a Stingray. Boyd scored less than four minutes into the game and then gave the Stingrays a 2-0 lead on a one-timer on the power play early in the third period. The Stingrays' power play had been just 2 for 29 in their last 12 games.
"We needed to get our power play going," Carbery said. "I wanted to simplify what we were doing on the power play, but we actually got a goal off some beautiful passing. Hopefully our power play can build on that."
Boyd finished off the scoring with an empty-net goal with 47 seconds to play.
Greenville 0 0 0 - 0
Stingrays 1 0 2 - 3
First Period: 1. SC, Boyd 10 (Mele), 3:39. Penalties: Gongalsky, SC (cross-checking), 15:00; Baker, SC (hooking), 17:26; Hinds, G (tripping), 19:33.
Second Period: No goals. Penalties: Baker, SC (high-sticking), 14:29; Vallerand, G (roughing), 19:19; Gongalsky, SC (roughing), 19:19.
Third Period: 2. SC, Boyd 11 (Rorigues, Vidmar), 4:24. 3. SC, Boyd 12 (Gongalsky), 19:12. Penalties: Oulette, G (interference), 3:05.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 7-13-8-28; Greenville: 11-7-7-25. Penalties: Stingrays 4-8; Greenville 3-6. Power Play: Stingrays 1 for 2; Greenville 0 for 3. Goalies: Stingrays -.David LeNeveu (4-3-0) 25 shots, 25 saves. Greenville - Scott Stajcer (4-4-0) 27 shots, 25 saves. Att: 7,656.
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