South Carolina Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery sat dumbfounded New Year's Eve wondering what had happened after his team's lackluster effort in a 6-3 loss to the Florida Everblades.
He promised changes were on the horizon.
The changes came and the results have been a stunning turnaround for a team that was searching for an identity less than a month ago.
Despite playing with just 13 skaters, three less than the maximum a team is allowed, the Stingrays found a way to beat the Everblades and cap a perfect weekend with three straight victories.
Defenseman Nick Tabisz, who was pressed into duty at forward because of injuries, call-ups and suspensions, scored two goals and Daren Machesney stopped all 30 shots as South Carolina blanked Florida, 3-0, on Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 2,383 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays, who have won nine straight, improved to 24-16-2 (50 points) and grabbed a share of first place in the ECHL's South Division. The Everblades fell to 21-17-3 (45 points).
"I don't know exactly what has happened over the last three weeks," Carbery said. "It's those 14 or 15 guys in the locker room that are finding ways to win hockey games. This would have been an easy game to take a day off. It's been a great weekend so far, we're down a couple bodies, why not just take a day off and take our four points in the standings and go home. To their credit they didn't do that and played a solid game."
Essentially, the Stingrays played the perfect road game at home.
"They came out and did all the right things," Carbery said." We battled, we competed hard, we played smart hockey and made the simple plays. It's not the most entertaining hockey to watch, but it produces results."
Tabisz, who has played both forward and defense throughout the season, provided the Stingrays will all the offense they'd need. The rookie had a power play goal in the opening period and added another goal in the second period as the Stingrays defense smothered the Everblades run-and-gun offensive style for 60 minutes.
"This is one of those games where I'm sure both teams really didn't want to be playing," Tabisz said. "I felt going in that the first team to score was probably going to win. I'm just glad we were the first team to score."
With the Stingrays clogging things up in the neutral zone, the Everblades had few chances to test Machesney.
"We played the best defense we've played this season over the weekend," Machesney said. "This wasn't a one-man shutout, it was the other 13 or 14 guys on the ice that deserve as much credit as I do."
--Stingrays forward Trent Campbell was suspended for three games for his hit on Florida forward David Rutherford in Saturday night's game.
--Greg Stewart (lower body), Billy Ryan (lower body), James McEwan and Chris Higgins (upper body) were out of the lineup with injuries.
First Period: 1. SC, Tabisz 5 (Hamilton, Tarkir), 4:37. Penalties: Lawson, F (hooking), 2;44.
Second Period: 2. SC, Tabisz 6 (unassisted), 2:43. Penalties: McGinnis F (high sticking) 4:18; Falite, F (tripping), 7:55; Shelast, F (roughing), 19:33; Flemming, SC (roughing), 19:33; Lawson, F (roughing), 20:00.
Third Period: 3. SC, Kroll 4 (Scherer), 18;35. Penalties: de Kastrozza, SC (tripping), 5:24.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 12-16-5-33; Florida:11-8-11-30. Penalties: Stingrays 2-4; Florida 5-10. Power Play: Stingrays 1 for 4; Florida 0 for 1. Goalies: Stingrays - Daren Machesney (8-9-0) 30 shots, 30 saves. Florida - Pat Nagle (14-11-2) 32 shots, 30 saves. Att: 2,383.