South Carolina Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery warned his players all week about getting off to a slow start Friday night against Orlando.
Because of the wintry weather in the Lowcountry, the two teams should have played Tuesday night at the North Charleston Coliseum, but the winter storm forced the game to be postponed until Feb. 25.
Instead of going home, the Solar Bears drove to Atlanta and played the Gwinnett Gladiators Thursday night. The Stingrays, meanwhile, had not played a game since last Saturday night's 4-1 win over Florida.
"A week off is a long time between games in this league, and a lot of times the team that has played the night before looks like the fresher team, especially early in the game," Carbery said.
Carbery didn't realize how prophetic he would be.
The Stingrays were sluggish in the first period, spotting the Solar Bears two goals, before finding their legs and scoring four unanswered goals in a 4-2 victory over Orlando on Friday night before a crowd of 3,783 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays, who are 5-0-0 against the Solar Bears this season, improved to 29-10-3 (61 points) and remained in first place in the ECHL's Eastern Conference. Orlando fell to 22-15-3 (47 points).
After first-period goals from Jacob Cepis and Mike Duco, Carbery had a frank discussion with the Stingrays during the first intermission.
"He wasn't screaming and yelling, but he let us know what we'd done wrong all period," said Stingrays forward Paul Rodrigues, who had a goal and an assist in the win. "We didn't come out very strong. Orlando won a lot of the 50-50 pucks because we were not moving our feet. Thank goodness it's a 60-minute game and not a 20-minute game."
The Stingrays took to heart Carbery's lecture and responded with a strong second period. Defenseman Drew Baker had two assists during a three-goal second period as the Stingrays seized the momentum. Baker got the scoring going seven minutes into the second period when he found Patrick Gaul for his ninth goal of the season.
"Give the guys in our locker room a lot of credit," Carbery said. "They didn't have a great first period and they came out and responded with two pretty solid periods. We're probably going to change the way we practice. We're down to 14 skaters, so there's not a whole lot you can do with so few bodies. We were just not mentally or physically into the game in the first period."
Forty-three seconds after Gaul's goal, Igor Gongalsky scored short-handed when he stepped into a Solar Bears passing lane and wristed a shot past Orlando goalie Cody Reichard to tie the game at the 7:24 mark of the second period.
"Igor's goal really lifted everyone on the bench," Carbery said. "It was a huge goal for us and really got us going."
Just before the end of the period, Baker found Rodrigues all alone at the Solar Bears blue line. Rodrigues skated into the offensive zone, finding Peter Boyd wide open in the slot. Boyd easily beat Reichard to give the Stingrays a 3-2 lead going into the final period.
"Guys in this locker room are just not going to give up," Rodrigues said. "We knew we didn't play well in the first period, and we did something about it in the second period."
Rodrigues, who started the season in the Southern Professional Hockey League, gave the Stingrays a two-goal cushion, picking up a loose puck after two Solar Bear defenders collided and wristed a shot past Reichard for the score with 4:10 left in the game.
"Paul has come in and done a nice job of us," Carbery said. "He's proven he belongs in this league."
Orlando 2 0 0 - 2
South Carolina 0 3 1 - 4
First Period: 1. O Duco 4 (Severyn, Wild), 9:30. 2. O, Cepis 8 (Severyn, Matson), 11:18 (PP). Penalties: Campbell, SC (tripping), 0:45; Greiner, SC (hooking), 9:59.
Second Period: 3. SC, Gaul 9 (Baker), 6:41. 4. SC, Gongalsky 6 (Greiner), 7:24 (SH). 5. SC, Boyd 14 (Rodrigues, Baker), 18:44. Penalties: Goggin, O (cross-checking), 5:08; Campbell, SC (hooking), 5:30; Fienhage, O (cross-checking), 7:50; Sparks, SC (hooking), 13:32.
Third Period: 6. Rodrigues 4 (unassisted), 14:50. Penalties: Sparks, SC (too many men on the ice), 15:41.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 12-9-7-28; Orlando: 14-8-7-29. Penalties: Stingrays 5-10; Orlando 2-4. Power Play: Stingrays 0 for 2; Orlando 1 for 5. Goalies: Stingrays -.Jeff Jakaitis 22-4-3) 29 shots, 27 saves. Orlando - Cody Reichard (2-5-5) 28 shots, 24 saves. Att: 3787.