The Gwinnett Gladiators and South Carolina Stingrays met Friday for the second consecutive night in ECHL action at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, but with far different results than the previous night’s contest produced. After winning 5-3 on Thursday, Gwinnett (20-11-1-0/41 PTS.) fell behind 3-0 before the first period came to an end in Friday’s matchup, then went on to a 4-0 shutout loss to South Division rival South Carolina (14-16-1-3/32 PTS.).
After a relatively penalty free game Thursday (4 Infractions, 8 PIM), Friday saw the two clubs combine for 16 infractions, including 4 fighting majors, that resulted in a total of 46 penalty minutes. The first and last goals of the game came on South Carolina power plays.
Robby Dee beat Gwinnett goalie Mike Lee (L, 17 saves on 21 shots) on the power play at 7:58 of the opening period to put South Carolina up 1-0. Tyler McNeely and Hunter Bishop got the helpers. Both McNeely and Bishop had 3-points in Thursday’s loss.
Forward Andrew Cherniwchan netted the second goal of the period at 12:05 to push the South Carolina advantage to 2-0. Tyler Johnson and Matthew Pistilli picked up the assists. Forwards Ryan Hayes and Chris Langkow turned a 2-on-1 break into the third score of the period when Hayes beat Lee at 18:01. The period ended with Gwinnett trailing 3-0.
Gwinnett stepped up on defense in the second period but was unable to cut South Carolina’s lead as the Rays continued to play outstanding defense, led by netminder Ryan Zapolski (W, blocked 26 shots in the SO), and the middle stanza ended with the score unchanged at South Carolina 3, Gwinnett 0. The teams combined for only 9 shots (GWT-5, SC-4) in the period.
The final period was a continuation of the previous period and saw the score remain 3-0 until the final minute of the game when, while on the man-advantage, Bishop took a pass from Dee and found the back of the net at 19:06 to complete the scoring for the night.
Lee takes the loss for Gwinnett. It is the Minnesota native’s sixth loss in a row and seventh in his last eight starts. His goals-against-average has increased from 1.86 to 2.12 in his last five starts, but he still is second in the league in that category. Lee’s early season performance has the 21-year old at 9-9-1-0. Lee also has 2 shutouts in 19 starts and has been named the ECHL Reebok Goalie of the Week twice.
Zapolski (12-5-0-0) earned his 12th win of the season and South Carolina snaps a six-game winless streak in the shutout. The 26-year old also leads the ECHL in SV% (.939) and SO (3), and is tied for the lead in wins.
Gwinnett was 0-for-4 on the power play, while South Carolina was 2-for-5. This is only the third game this season that Gwinnett has given up multiple power play goals.
First Star: SC – 31 Ryan Zapolski (26 saves in the shutout)
Second Star: SC – 21 Robby Dee (1G, 1A/2 TP)
Third Star: SC – 22 Ryan Hayes (1G/1 TP)
– For the season, Gwinnett has given up 33 power play goals on 125 chances.
-Zapolski also shutout the Gladiators on December 1st in his last start against the club. The Rays went on to a 2-0 win in that one.
-Gwinnett trails the Greenville Road Warriors (20-12-2-1/ 43 points) by two points in the South Division of the Eastern Conference with the clubs set to do battle Saturday night in Greenville, and again on Friday, January 4th at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in their next home game.
The Gladiators are the ECHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League and play home games at the 11,355-seat Arena at Gwinnett Center, located just off I-85 on Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth. The ECHL is the Premier “AA” League.
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