ORLANDO, FLA – There wasn’t much change in the ECHL Eastern conference standings over the last week, in fact the top five teams stayed in the same slots from seven days ago. There was however some flip-flopping below them as four teams changed places.
With a range of 15 to 18 games remaining in the regular season, all eight playoff seeds are up for grabs. The difference between first place and second place is slightly closer as the Orlando Solar Bears gained a point on the South Carolina Stingrays. The space between third place Kalamazoo and tenth place Evansville is a mere seven points.
South Carolina (35-17-2-3, 75 points) continues to hang on to the top spot despite the loss of goalie Jeff Jakaitis. The Stingrays split four games during the week, beating Elmira in a shootout and blanking Toledo. The two losses came at Reading and in Elmira.
Nick Larson was the scoring star in the Elmira win, scoring both the lone goal in regulation and the game winner in the shootout. Peter Boyd and Wade Simpson were the goal scorers during the victory over Toledo. Allen York was the winning goalie in each case. The Stingrays have just one game over the next week, a Friday night contest in Kalamazoo.
Orlando (34-17-2-2, 75 points) is still nipping at the heels of the Stingrays despite a couple of losses, injuries and a player suspension. The Solar Bears bracketed wins over Kalamazoo and Florida around a pair of losses to the K-Wings.
After winning their eleventh straight game on Friday behind balanced scoring and goalie Cody Reichard’s ninth consecutive win, the Solar Bears came up empty on Saturday and Monday as the Wings pulled out a pair of one goal wins.
The two losses came at the expense of outstanding goaltending efforts by Christopher Gibson. Gibson stopped 33 shots on Saturday while Reichard turned away 33 on Monday, including one diving stop that got him on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top Ten for the night. Gibson came back to beat the Florida Everblades on Tuesday in overtime with a personal season high 42 saves. Jake Cepis bagged a hat trick against the Everblades while Mickey Lang netted the winner in OT.
Forward C.J. Severyn was involved in an incident with referee Ryan Murphy on Monday, earning him a ten game suspension. Blue line injuries and callups have coach Vince Williams looking for replacements, the first of which is Matt Ridley, son of former NHL player Mike Ridley, who joins the Solar Bears from Fayetteville in the SPHL for two games in Greenville this weekend.
The aforementioned Kalamazoo squad (32-18-2-3, 69 points) picked up four out of six points against Orlando but did not gain any ground on second place.
David Pacan was one of the stars for the Wings over the weekend, picking up a goal in Friday’s loss and a penalty shot score as well as the assist on Brett Ponich’s overtime game winning goal on Monday. Former Solar Bear Chris Lawrence has some impact as well, scoring a goal on Friday and adding two assists on Saturday. Joel Martin backstopped the two wins in net.
The Wings are at home for three games this weekend, hosting South Carolina and two contests with Fort Wayne.
The Reading Royals (33-19-1-1, 68 points) stayed in fourth place but are now tied with Cincinnati (32-20-1-3, 68 points). Reading went a perfect 2-0 last week with wins over South Carolina and at Wheeling.
Defense and balanced scoring were the Royals calling cards. Netminder Brandon Anderson pitched a 33-save shutout against the Stingrays while Riley Gill stopped 27 of the 28 shots thrown his way by the Nailers. Josh Brittain led the scoring parade with a goal in each contest as seven different Royals lit the lamp in the two contests.
Cincinnati played a lot of extra hockey as three if its four games went to a shootout. The Cyclones went 1-2 in those contests, all of them against Evansville. The other win during the 2-2 week came against Wheeling. Anthony Luciani was the leading goal scorer, picking up a total of five goals. Jonathan Hazen added four more scores and Byron Froese had a hat trick against the Nailers.
Reading has four games over the next week, facing Wheeling and Evansville twice at home before heading to Elmira next Wednesday. Cincinnati’s week has a pair of home games against Toledo on the schedule.
Greenville (31-20-2-3, 67 points) picked up some ground, taking sole possession of sixth in the conference. The Road Warriors posted a perfect week, defeating Fort Wayne once and Toledo twice.
Scott Arnold and John Nicholls both scored once in each game for the Road Warriors while Andrew Rowe netted a goal in two of the three contests. Jason Missiaen recorded the win over the Komets with a solid 41-save effort.
Fort Wayne (26-18-6-5, 63 points) fell back into a tie for seventh with Florida (28-20-3-4). The Komets played twice, defeating Evansville in a classic defensive battle and losing to Greenville.
Joe Hartman and Shawn Szydlowski scored the two Fort Wayne goals in the loss to the Road Warriors. Against Evansville on the road, Chris Auger scored the lone goal of the game at the 14:31 mark of the third period. That goal was the only one that netminder Ben Meisner would need as he turned away all 35 IceMen shots.
Florida was not so lucky, going 1-3 for the week, beating Gwinnett once and suffering two losses to the Gladiators and falling in overtime to Orlando.
Stefan Della Rovere was the big scorer for the Everblades, finding the back of the net three times. A.J. Jenks also lit the lamp three times.
Fort Wayne will visit Kalamazoo for a pair of games over the weekend while Florida hosts Gwinnett twice.
Wheeling (26-19-3-7, 62 points) and Evansville (28-23-1-5, 62 points) are tied for ninth but not out of the race as both are one point out of seventh place.
The Nailers went 1-2 for the week but the one was something to behold. After spotting Elmira four goals, Wheeling came back to score six unanswered tallies to win going away. Cody Sylvester led the attack with two goals. Mike Ratchuk and Christiaan Minella both matched Sylvester’s effort in a 7-5 loss to Cincinnati and Max MacKay had the lone score in a 4-1 loss to Reading.
The IceMen faced Cincinnati three times and as was described earlier, they won two of the three games. Kellan Tochkin and Matt Schepke each netted a goal in two of the games against the Cyclones. Antoine Corbin scored the shootout winner in the third meeting of the two teams in the 14th round. Goalie Mike Clemente was a star in defeating Cincinnati, stopping a total of 67 shots in the two games.
Wheeling and Evansville both have three games to play in the next week. The Nailers will face Reading and Elmira on the road and Toledo at home while the IceMen will meet Elmira once and Reading twice, all on the road.
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