South Carolina Stingrays goalie Daren Machesney stood at the Charleston International Airport baggage claim late Friday afternoon waiting on this luggage.
After a 90-minute delay in Philadelphia, Machesney was pushed for time. He had just a couple of hours to get ready for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Kelly Cup playoff semifinals against the Kalamazoo K-Wings.
After passengers had claimed all the luggage, Machensey stood empty- handed and searching for someone from the airline to help find his bags.
“All my gear, all the pads, everything was with my bags. I couldn’t have played if they were lost,” Machesney said.
As it turned out, Machesney’s luggage was too big to fit on the carousel and had to be hand-delivered from the tarmac.
Machesney rushed over to the North Charleston Coliseum and had about an hour to prepare for an elimination game against the K-Wings.
Machesney turned in a strong performance, stopping 31 of 32 shots, and Chris Higgins had a goal and an assist to lead South Carolina past Kalamazoo, 4-1, in Game 4 on Friday night before a crowd of 1,731 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays still trail the K-Wings, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series and face elimination again in Game 5 today at the North Charleston Coliseum at 7 p.m.
Machesney had been up in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with Gwinnett two weeks ago. But as the Washington Capitals got healthy, a trickle-down effect caused Machesney to be reassigned to South Carolina early Friday.
“No one had to tell me how important this game was,” Machesney said. “It’s a playoff game and all playoff games are huge. It didn’t matter if we were up 3-0 or down 3-0, I was going to approach the game the same way.”
Machesney came up with perhaps his best performance of the season at the most crucial moment.
“I can’t say enough about Daren Machesney,” said Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery. “He traveled all day, and that’s not a lot of preparation for a goaltender. He was huge tonight. He made some big, big saves, and that speaks to what a true professional Daren is.”
A sentiment shared by team captain Matt Scherer.
“He stepped up in a big way for us tonight,” Scherer said. “He made some saves he probably shouldn’t have. It was just really nice to have him back there. No question he was the difference in this game.”
After a sluggish start in Game 3 that saw the Stingrays give up two goals in the first four minutes, it was South Carolina that struck first and ended the opening period with a 2-0 lead on goals from Andrew Cherniwchan and Michael Dorr.
“I think that just gave us some confidence,” Carbery said. “We didn’t get off a good start in Game 3, and coming out flying tonight was a key for us.”
The Stingrays were forced to kill off a five-minute kneeing penalty by Cherniwchan to end the second period.
“Huge penalty kill for us,” Scherer said. “Daren made a couple of unbelievable saves on that kill.”
With Cherniwchan already out of the lineup, the Stingrays also lost defenseman Zach Tarkir to an injury.
“Everyone just dug down deep,” Scherer said. “We knew what was at stake.”
Tarkir’s status for tonight’s Game 5 is uncertain.
Kalamazoo 0 0 1 — 1 Stingrays 2 0 2 — 4
First Period: 1. SC, Dorr 2 (Scherer, Higgins), 2:52. 2. SC, Cherniwchan 2 (Flemming, Cullen), 9:24. Penalties: Charlebois, K (kneeing), 13:04; Koger, SC (tripping), 13:49; Flemming, SC (hooking), 16:01.
Second Period: No goals. Penalties: Helminen, K (interference), 8:07; Kattelus, K (roughing), 9:57; Kroll, SC (roughing), 9:57; Tarkir, SC (high-sticking), 11:24; Archibald, K (interference on the goalkeeper, roughing), 11:47; Stevenson, SC (roughing), 11:47; Cherniwchan, SC (kneeing - major, game misconduct - kneeing), 15:12; Matczak, K (interference on the goalkeeper), 18:33.
Third Period: 3. SC, Higgins 2 (Lacroix, Kroll), 7:47. 4. K, Sirota 7 (Matczak, Strong), 13:49. 5. SC, Ryan 2 (Higgins), 19:35. Penalties: Lacroix, SC (slashing), 9:22. Scherer, SC (interference), 12:33.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 9-6-6-21; Kalamazoo: 10-11-12-33. Penalties: Stingrays 9-29; Kamazoo 6-12. Power Play: Stingrays 0 for 4; Kalamazoo 1 for 6. Goalies: Stingrays – Daren Macheseny (1-1-0) 33 shots, 32 saves. Kalamazoo – Riley Gill (6-2-0) 20 shots, 17 saves. Att: 1,731.