ECHL Spooky Recap: Swamp Rabbits Trip to Savannah brings upon an Intense Game for Both Teams in a Dire Division Standing Competition

It’s been a pretty interesting week for the Savannah Ghost Pirates and Greenville Swamp Rabbits, as they’ve spent the last week of March 6-12 playing games that would be influential to their division standings. The Swamp Rabbits went in to play two back-to-back games at home, one against Jacksonville Icemen on Thursday and the other against the Ghost Pirates on Friday, March 10; both games would either put them down or up a few points in the south division. At this point, teams in the ECHL are beginning to clinch their way to the Kelly Cup Playoffs. But the race for teams who rank lower in their respective divisions to grab a higher lead is far from over! The Swamp Rabbits have seemed to be struggling lately, losing the home game against the Icemen and the one in Atlanta before then; plus, fast forward after the Savannah trip, they would lose to Atlanta again at Gas South Arena on March 14. Despite the losses, however, the Rabbits have a lot on their table to easily stop the losses and up the game to punch their ticket to the KCPO this mid-April, with excellent defensive/offensive players and coaches that can very well put up a strategy to win.

On March 15, 2023, the Swamp Rabbits remain in 3rd place in the south, ahead of their state rivals, the Stingrays; 4th in the eastern conference, 8th in the league. Their WLR is 32-19-7, with 72 points and 59 goal points. With the Ghost Pirates ranking 21 in the league, they are last in 7th place in the south behind Orlando, and have 60 goal points, 22-28-9 WLR, and total out with just 54 points. Yes, they are a very agitated team in the league; however, they are starting to change as a team—winning more games against better teams and putting up a lot of goal points. The Ghost Pirates team has been seeing a lot of player changes in the recent days/weeks since their AHL affiliate has been calling up some of their star players. As a result, Savannah would call upon player signings from college/juniors/league. The sudden change in newer players unfamiliar with the team entering and finding a place would be challenging for the team as a whole. But it seems to be working so far. 

Before the game at Savannah against the Swamp Rabbits began, the Ghost Pirates won against the Jacksonville Icemen in a shootout 1-0—yes, a shootout win with that score against the best team in the south. Before that game, the Ghost Pirates would lose to the Rabbits at Greenville 6-4, but before that game, the Ghost Pirates would win two games in a row against the Florida Everblades. The Rabbits knew this as they took a trip to the one game at Enmarket Center against the Pirates. 

Entering in the 1st period, the Rabbits would start out strong, having physicality and decreased turnovers compared to the last game at home. With the hard work during the 1st, they would score first at 6:10 by Miles Gendron netting in his 2nd of the season, with the assist by Josh McKechney and Tanner Eberle.

The energy from scoring first and holding the one-goal lead would keep the Ghost Pirates from scoring. With the absence of Ryan Bednard again from being called up to another AHL PTO, Rabbits’ backup goalie David Hrenak would take the mantle to defend his goal. He and the Rabbit’s defensemen would make saves to keep the 1st 1-0. Later, at 14:00, the Rabbits would score again to increase their lead to 2-0, as the Rabbits would spend a minute in the Ghost Pirates zone. Dallas Gerads would retrieve the puck in the corner to pass it to defenseman LA Grissom who was at the center, and he would snap it to Savannah’s goalie Bullion. Carter Souch would stand in the crease to get the puck near Bullion and punch it into the net. 

Now that the Rabbits would have the lead, what could be better than a goal lead? Perhaps a good old-fashioned fight? Yes, a fight would break out at 17:57 by Justin Nachbaur dropping the mitts to Pirates defenseman Jeremy Masella. Masella would get a few jabs at Nachbaur at first; however, Nachbaur would retaliate by delivering a few right hits, thus bringing down Masella on the ice. After the fight, the game would end at 2-0 Swamp Rabbits in the 1st period.

Heading into the 2nd period, the Ghost Pirates would get a PP and, unfortunately, score 2:46 into the 2nd to make it 2-1. The goal was by forward #22 Drevitch, with the assist by Corcoran and Estes.

Regardless of the goal by Savannah, the Rabbits remained confident that they’d be able to score again and/or retain their lead. But that didn’t go as planned… At 3:13, barely a minute after the last goal, Savannah would score again, and making it a tied game.

This would strain the Rabbit’s team, and because of it, they would try their best to score. After shot-after shot, turnover after turnover, and block by block, the Rabbits would shortly score to increase their lead again; at 8:45, assist leader Alex Ierullo would make it 3-2, giving the Rabbits more energy to maintain their lead.

However, that didn’t work out—again—as Savannah would take charge from that opposition goal and score 1 minute after Ierullo’s

goal at 9:48. The goal was by forward #21 Kaufman, with one assist by defenseman #4 Thompson. Again, the game would be tied, but plenty of time remained for the Rabbits to get their lead back. It may have taken a bit of time, but the Rabbits would score to increase their lead at 16:08 by Josh McKechney wristing a shot past Bullion from an excellent zone-advancing pass by Tanner Eberle.

After the same trend, the Rabbits would be back to the one-goal lead after trying many times to end the tie, putting up 15 shots in that period alone.

The one-goal lead would stand for the majority of the 3rd period. Not much action would be heavily recorded during this time—not one penalty was called at all during the period. It was incredibly still for this period. Until it wasn’t. At 18:35, Savannah decided to end Greenvilles hopes and dreams of ending the game with a win by scoring and tying the game at 4-4, with less than a minute/half left in regulation from an empty net, six-man advantage.

From that tying goal, Greenville would be unable to convert on the urgency to win the game in regulation, so it would therefore head into 3-on-3 overtime. Overtime would be interesting for both teams: a decent amount of turnovers occurred, and lots of shots on goal were mustered, but nothing would go through. The chances were there, but not enough to take the win. After five minutes of overtime hockey, the game would enter the shootout to render a winner. Greenville would start first, with Brett Kemp being the shooter. Kemp would attempt to snap the puck in past Bullion, but it would be denied. For Savannah, Pat Guay would be the first shooter. He would be able to slide the puck past Hrenak, as Hrenak would try to dive way past the crease to poke the puck away, leaving a wide-open net available. 1-0 Savannah in the first round of the shootout. For Greenvilles second shooter, Carter Souch would get the go and rush down to Bullion; he would do a little fake shot and make Bullion move the other way, leaving enough space for Souch to snap it in. 1-1 for the second-round shootout. Now Savannah would give the go for Daniel D’Amato to be the next shooter. D’Amato would get the backhand shot to go past Hrenaks pad stretch. 

It was now 2-1 Savannah in the S.O.; Greenville would have to get the S.O. goal to tie it and keep it going. So, with that, they would call on Alex Ierullo to get the job done. However, that wouldn’t be the case… Ierullo would motor down to Bullion and puck handle it like McDavid. The puck handling would trip up Bullion a little, keeping the butterfly down and leaving some empty net space for Ierullo to net it in. But, Ierullo somehow got tripped up like Bullion and hesitated to shoot it into the right-handed side of the open net. Because of Ierullo’s mistake in shooting the puck, the Ghost Pirates would take the game with another shootout victory of 5-4. 

Jake Farmer

I'm a photographer and writer covering the ECHL Greenville Swamp Rabbits based in Greenville, South Carolina.

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