There was free hockey on the table Saturday evening. For the Jacksonville Icemen, that wasn’t a good thing. Heading into Saturday’s game on a four-game win streak, the Icemen would look to continue their end-of-season run against the first-place South Carolina Stingrays. The Stingrays, who have been on the ugly side of a couple of losses this week, had just a three-point lead on the Icemen in the standings. With a game in hand over the first-place team, the Icemen could clinch the first-place spot by winning out the weekend. The catch, however, is that the win against South Carolina had to come in regulation.
So, when Saturday night’s game crept into overtime, the Icemen saw their fate decided.
Second place in the division.
The game Saturday night wasn’t decided in overtime, though. The 60 minutes preceding the extra hockey was full of dramatics, with both teams finding ways to apply pressure at both ends, keeping the action in a back-and-forth flow. The game would eventually end in a shootout, with the fourth-round shooter for the Stingrays locking up the win.
The Icemen would score three goals in the first, jumping out to an early 3-0 start until the Stingrays would get on the board late into the period. Icemen forward Ara Nazarian would net his 20th goal of the season to get things started. The goal was Nazarian’s first goal in 14 games and the first point he’s picked up in the last 14 games. Rookie forward Carson MacKinnon netted his first and second professional career goals in the opening frame. The first goal would come at the 8:32 mark on a pass from captain Christopher Brown and Tim Theocharidis. Brown’s assist on the goal was his 61st point of the year, moving him into first place on the Icemen’s all-time single-season points list.
Icemen defenseman Mackenzie Dwyer and Stingrays forward Jackson Leppard would drop the gloves in the second period, although there was no lack of testiness throughout the game. The Stingrays would net the only goal of the middle frame on a shot from Ryan Scarfo, finding the net four minutes into the period. The 3-2 score would hold until the Icemen netted an insurance goal halfway through the third off a shot from Cristiano DiGiacinto, making it 4-2. The action stayed quick-paced in the third, with both teams finding ways to press the other. South Carolina would have more success driving the play, outshooting the Icemen 15-5 in the last frame. Getting pucks on net was critical for the Stingrays in the last period, as they collected goals from forwards Jarid Lukosevicius and Lawton Courtnall to tie things up 4-4 and send the game into overtime.
There were good chances at both ends, but neither team would be able to close the game out in extra time. Derek Lodermeier, Benjamin Tardif, Carson MacKinnon, and Chris Grando would all get turns in the shootout for the Icemen. Ben Tardif was the only one to be successful, scoring in round two. The Stingrays would see shots from Kevin O’Neil, Andrew Cherniwchan, Austin Magera, and Max Humitz. Cherniwchan’s goal came in round two, tying the Tardif goal and extending the shootout. Max Humitz netted the final 5-4 tally for South Carolina.
The Icemen did a great job keeping the chase for first place alive, falling just short with one game to go. With Saturday night’s loss coming in extra time, South Carolina was able to walk away with a four-point lead over the Icemen in the standings. Although the Icemen still have one more game to play, a victory over the Solar Bears in the last game of the season won’t be enough to close the points gap. That means that playoff seeding is now sorted, and the Icemen will take on the third-place Greenville Swamp Rabbits in round one of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. As the second seed, the Icemen will have a home-ice advantage in round one against Greenville.
Round one of the Kelly Cup Playoffs is slated to begin on Friday, April 21st, with a 7:00 pm puck drop at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.