NORTH CHARLESTON, SC – In the wake of Friday night’s huge road win over Gwinnett, the Orlando Solar Bears probably felt like they were turning a corner on their woes away from home. That was until they got to South Carolina.
Chris Langkow and Robby Dee each scored two goals while teammate Tyler McNeely notched a five-point game as the South Carolina Stingrays rocked Orlando by a score of 9-3 at the North Charleston Coliseum Saturday night. Things didn’t get much better for the visitors on Sunday as Hunter Bishop scored twice and the Stingrays rode a big second period to a 5-2 win.
Solar Bears captain Ryan Cruthers scored his 100th career ECHL goal in Saturday‘s tilt, extending his consecutive games with a goal streak to four. He was also involved in an incident midway through the third period that helped to cement South Carolina’s control of the game and earned him a seat in the stands on Sunday and possibly longer.
Cruthers won’t be the only player waiting on a call from the ECHL offices based on an incident in the two games. Stingray forward Justin Courtnall was tagged for a major penalty and game misconduct Sunday when he ran Severyn into the glass near the penalty boxes. Like Langkow, Severyn was able to get up and skate away, albeit with blood running down his face from a freshly opened cut.
The two hits were the exceptions in a pair of games that were hotly contested at times. Orlando (19-22-2-2) more than held its own in the opening period of each game, even leading by one Saturday night on Cruthers’ power play tally that came after a fine keep-in at the blue line by Ryan Blair.
After Bishop tied Saturday’s affair 30 seconds into the second, the Solar Bears continued to get chances. Severyn was awarded a penalty shot at the 8:57 mark but South Carolina goalie Ryan Zapolski, who was the MVP of the ECHL All-Star Game last Wednesday, made the save.
New Orlando netminder Patrick Killeen, who was assigned to the team by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Friday, was playing solidly in between the pipes, keeping the Stingrays in check past the midpoint of the second period before the roof started caving in. At the 11:43 mark, Langkow was at the right place at the right time when Killeen made a save on a shot by Scooter Vaughan. The rebound came out, hit Langkow’s skate and redirected into the net. Less than 30 seconds later, a defensive breakdown by the Solar Bears led to Dee’s first score of the night. Then just before the period ended, Langkow was credited with tipping in a shot by Colby Cohen during a power play to give the Stingrays a commanding 4-1 lead after two.
The final period became a shootout when the team combined for four goals in a span of five minutes. Dee and Vaughan had the scores for South Carolina while Michael Neal and Mat Sisca lit the lamp for Orlando. Three minutes later, the Cruthers/Langkow/Severyn incident occurred, giving the Stingrays the chance to seal the deal. McNeely scored 14 seconds into the five-on-three and later Derek Foam and Patrick Gaul scored power play goals before Cruthers’ penalty ended to close the scoring.
Sunday afternoon’s tilt featured a tightly played opening period as Zapolski and Solar Bears goalie John Curry battled save for save well into the stanza. Late in the period, South Carolina (22-22-1-3) was on the power play when Bishop tipped a shot by McNeely on net. Curry made the save but the puck dropped through his pads and Bishop tapped it home.
As they had the night before, the Solar Bears hung tough, staying within a goal until the midway juncture of the second period. Once again enjoying a man advantage, the Stingrays increased their lead when Langkow cleaned up a rebound and stuffed it home. Less than a minute later, Bishop was in the right place in the right time as Curry made a save but the puck went airborne, hit the shaft of Bishop’s stick and went in.
At the 15:19 mark, Dee found McNeely on the backside of the action and McNeely slammed the pass into the net to make it 4-0. At that point, Orlando head coach Drake Berehowsky attempted to get his team going by replacing Curry with Killeen. Severyn stopped the bleeding for a bit when he rifled a shot from the top of the right wing circle at 16:54 but when Matt Beca took advantage of a Solar Bears miscue with less than two minutes remaining in the period, South Carolina had a 5-1 cushion heading to the third.
Courtnall’s major penalty allowed Orlando a golden opportunity to get back into the game. Neal scored 26 seconds into the power play to trim the lead to 5-2 but it was the only tally the visitors got on the man advantage. It turned out to be the only goal of the period as Zapolski slammed the door shut to pick up his second win in less than 24 hours.
The Solar Bears now come home to start a run of 13 of the next 14 games at the Amway Center. It all begins Wednesday night when the Greenville Road Warriors come to Orlando for a 7 p.m. contest.
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