There isn't much of a nightlife in Estero, Fla., and South Carolina Stingrays forward Patrick Gaul decided to head back to the team's hotel, grab a quick bite to eat and catch a movie before going to bed after Friday night's 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Everblades.
Gaul had reason to celebrate as it was his goal with six seconds left in overtime that gave the Stingrays the victory over their ECHL South Division rival. Later that night he would learn from teammates that ESPN gave him something else to celebrate.
"There's not a ton to do after the games down here," Gaul said. "I was pretty tired, we had a game (Saturday), so I just wanted to get back to the room and relax."
While the rest of his team went out to TGI Friday's near Hertz Arena for a postgame meal, Gaul was in his room watching How to Train Your Dragon 2.
When ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 plays segment came on the televisions at TGI Friday's, most of the Stingrays barely took notice. But when the segment got to the No. 1 play, the players and coaches on hand thought the scene look familiar.
As it turned out, it was.
It was the highlight of Gaul's goal against the Everblades.
"We couldn't believe it at first, you don't normally see plays from the minor leagues make the Top 10," said South Carolina Stingrays head coach Spiros Anastas. "But Gaul's goal was unbelievable. I don't know that I've ever celebrated a regular-season goal as much as that goal."
What made Gaul's goal so unique and worthy of ESPN SportsCenter consideration was that for most of the play, he didn't have a stick.
With the final seconds ticking off the clock in overtime, the puck was in the Stingrays defensive zone along the boards. South Carolina forward Tad Kozun chipped the puck off boards to Gaul, who'd lost his stick earlier in the play.
"It had gotten wedged between one of the Florida players and the boards, so there was no way I was going to be able to get it loose and I just dropped it," Gaul said.
As the puck slid into the neutral zone, Gaul saw an opportunity to get behind the Everblades defense. He started to shout at the Stingrays bench for a stick.
"Tad got stuck out there and had been on the ice for about two minutes, so he was gassed," Anastas said. "Just a great hustle play on Tad's part to get the puck out of the zone."
Gaul's first thought was to look for Stingrays equipment manager Cameron Parker for one of his sticks, but he was at the end of the bench and there was no time for Parker to hang him a stick. Luckily for Gaul, defenseman Tim Davison, who is also a left-handed shot, thrust his stick toward the former Notre Dame standout as he was storming by the bench.
In one motion, Gaul hauled in the stick, picked up the puck and headed on a breakaway toward Everblades goalie Jeremy Helvig.
"If Patrick tries to get one of his own sticks from Cameron, he doesn't have enough time to get a shot off," Anastas said.
Gaul was able to create a little more space when he bodied Florida defenseman Tommy Thompson as he crossed into the Everblades' defensive zone.
"Really lucky that the curve on Tim's stick is about the same as mine," Gaul said. "Had it been anyone else's stick, I might not have been able to get a good shot off."
Gaul skated in on Helvig and beat him over his glove for the game-winner.
"I'd noticed earlier that he tended to start with his glove low, so there was some room to shoot high," Gaul said.
When the play was shown on ESPN, Gaul didn't see it the first time it aired, but was able to catch it when teammates began to text him from the restaurant.
"That was pretty cool to turn on the TV and see something you'd just done on ESPN," Gaul said.
Gaul's goal was later replaced at No. 1 by a play from the NHL. Gaul's goal ended up as the night's No. 2 play.
This is the second this year that the Stingrays have been featured on ESPN's Top 10 Plays. In February, former Stingrays forward Tim McGauley came in at No. 5 for his goal against the Norfolk Admirals.