Greenville, SC—The Swamp Rabbits returned home for a three-game homestand after closing out their two-game stand in Florida against the Everblades. The Rabbits would face three of their division foes in a length of three days.
Game One, SC vs. GVL—February 2, 2024
The first period would start out strong for the Rabbits, as Max Martin, returning to Greenville after getting sent down from the Ontario Reign, would snipe an unassisted goal to open up the scoring. Greenvilles goal would render momentum and energy to retain the one goal lead for the remainder of the period. After Martins’s goal, both teams would battle back and forth between zones before the buzzer rang.
The second stretch would be all South Carolina, as they would post 15 shots on Bednard’s net and have two power play opportunities. For their first power play at 4:00, the Stingrays would put up four shots on Bednard, but Bednard would deny the shots from being goals. In the second power play, South Carolina would put three shots on the netminder wearing navy-orange. Bednard was certainly living up to his recently crowned, or should we say second-crowned, ECHL Goaltender of the Month title. After a battle of SC against Greenvilles’ alert defensive unit, the Stingrays finally broke through at the last minute and scored the tie goal. At 19:21, Nick Leivermann would hard wrist a top-shelf goal at the center end and tie things up for his team. The second stretch would conclude 1-1 Greenville. Important to note the Rabbits’ were outshot by ten shots posting just five shots on Mitchell Gibson.
For the final twenty minutes, SC would once again dominate, but after a Swamp Rabbits PP goal at 3:08, though. At that time, after setup after setup and shot after shot, the Rabbits finally broke free with an insurance goal of two from a long-range shot by Josh McKechney. But McKechney’s goal would only fuel the fire of the Stingrays’ determination and tenacity to score. They would post eight shots on Bednard, but once again, the netminder and his fellow d-men would make some incredible saves to keep the game 2-1. And then, at 18:14, the Stingrays’ bench would call for Gibson to make the net empty for the extra attacker, and they would use that to their advantage with limited time left. After good shot attempts, positioning, and set ups from their six attackers, the Stingrays would eventually break through and tie at the very last moment. At 19:43, Jack Adams would net his 12th of the season from a pass by Jonny Evans. For what seemed like an imminent overtime, the Rabbits’ had 17 seconds left to do something unexpected. After the puck was dropped at center ice, the Rabbits’ won the faceoff, thrusting the puck into the SC zone, and started hammering down on the Stingrays’ confident unit. Then, at 19:59, Max Martin fired a rocket at Gibson and ended up scoring a buzzer-beater with 0.5 seconds left in regulation. In an epic fashion, Max Martin would net his second of the game, win it for his team, and be crowned the first star of the game.
“Obviously we got on the ice – what was 13 seconds left – so any puck that’s gotta go in the net, and one came out to me up top and all I had to do was find its way to the net and it found a way in.” Martin said in a post-game interview, “It’s good to see – I didn’t really know when it went in until the boys’ reacted. But it’s good to get the win like that.”
How is that energy of winning in that fashion going to carry forward into tomorrow’s game against JAX?
“It’s good. We obviously were not too happy with how the game went over; all i thought was we didn’t play our best for a full 60, but to come up with the win shows the character of our group and just gets us excited for tomorrow to keep it rolling and trying to get another win.”
You’ve played 23 games with the Rabbits. How does the system here in GVL compare to that in Ontario?
“They’re both pretty similar, there’s a few kinks here and there with play – I play right side here and i’m on the left in Ontario. I’m super comfortable with our system here, played it all last year and the start of this year – there’s no real adjustment period for me coming back here.
What’s going forth to the game plan ahead of tomorrow’s stick it to cancer night against Jax?
“Basically, our message in the room right now is just building championship habits; we’re top of the division, so we can’t really take nights off. JAX’s is rolling right now, so we gotta be ready for them tomorrow and just play the right way for full 60 minutes.”
Game Two, Stick It To Cancer Night—JAX vs. GVL, February 3, 2024
It was Stick It To Cancer Night at The Well, as the Swamp Rabbits would wear speciality purple jerseys to honour and pay tribute to those effected by the terrible disease of cancer.
For the start of the first period, the Swamp Rabbits would open up scoring just 3:02 into the period from a goal by Ethan Somoza. However, Jacksonville would hold the D-zone control after that. Greenville had good offensive zone coverage, putting up 14 shots on Matt Vernon, but the Icemen woke up and went to work after Somoza’s goal. Later into the period, at 17:38, Luc Brown would tie it up for his team. After twenty minutes, the game would be tied at one heading into the forty minute stretch.
The second period would be dominated by the Icemen as they would find good ways at scoring and lifting the tie. They would break the one-goal tie at 5:44 by Christopher Brown after his team would spend a long time pressuring Ingham with shot after shot. And then, moments after, the Icemen would force a Greenville turnover and rush down to their zone with the help of D’Amigo, Lacopelli, and Fiddler-Schultz. Lacopelli would feed a back-door pass to Fiddler-Schultz for him to rip one near the blue line and score.
The third stretch is when Greenville got desperate and called for desperate measures to muster up a win. But that wouldn’t transpire until 19:00. Before that time, the Icemen would run over the Rabbits’; they really had the upper hand over them, as the Rabbits’ didn’t seem to have anything in the tank. Neither team would score, though, until after 19:00. At 18:19, Jacob Ingham would get pulled for the extra attacker. The Greenville team wearing their purple sweaters would try to set something up. At 19:07, Matt Vernon made a mistake behind the net to play the puck, but a Swamp Rabbit intercepted it in the trapezoid and fed a pass to Nikita Pavlychev to score an open net goal.
The crowd was buzzing after Pavlychev’s goal as the team would trail by a single goal and appeared to have something planned. The Rabbits’ would keep the net empty after the goal and try to tie it up with less than a minute to work with. However, perhaps a good backcheck by the Icemen and overconfidence from the Rabbits would give the Icemen chances to score twice on the empty net. And that would do it for the Rabbits’; the Icemen would thereby take their fifth straight win.
Game Three—SAV vs. GVL, February 4, 2024
First period would be strictly dominated by the Swamp Rabbits, as they would score not once but three times, while Savannah only scored a single goal. The first Swamp Rabbits goal was by Jake Smith, as he was assisted to hard rocket the puck from Coyle’s pass. The second goal was by Savannah’s Alex Swetlikoff at 10:49 to tie the score up. However, the tie would be short-lived, as at 13:42, Swamp Rabbits captain Ben Freeman would net the tiebreaker. Then, less than two minutes after Freeman’s goal, Brannon McManus would score the insurance goal. A good forecheck and steady discipline from the Rabbits would reward them significantly after 20 minutes.
The second period was a fun and exhilarating one for the Rabbits. Savannah would start off with a power play, but the Rabbits’ PK core killed it off successfully. Then, at 7:04, they would go on another power play and, this time, capitalize on it. Savannah would open up scoring in the period from a goal by Simon Pinard and give his team a one-goal trail after just a second into the PP. After that goal, it was all Greenville. At 10:24, good pressure on Jesper Vikman’s net would give the Rabbits clearance to position themselves in the right spot, as a shot from McManus would get tipped in by Ben Freeman, who was in the crease. The recently named captain of the Swamp Rabbits would usher in a resurrected two goal insurance lead.
Then Carter Souch would extend that lead to three at 14:20. At 15:18, J.D. Greenway would get checked in the middle of the ice in the Savannah zone by Joe Fleming, and consequently, Greenway was not having it as he would immediately drop the mitts and stride over to Fleming to instigate a fight.
As a result, the crowd at Bon Secours Arena was fired up and louder than ever; everyone loves a good hockey fight, even if your team would go short-manned because of it. However, despite getting penalized from Greenway’s fight instigation, the Rabbits would have tremendous energy to successfully kill off Savannah’s power play and deny them any shots on Bednard. And then, after that sequence of events, the Rabbits’ would go on the power play and capitalize on it. A nifty poke check from Pavlychev would allow him to motor down to Savannah’s zone, unassisted, and score on the backhand while having a Ghost Pirate d-man poking him.
For the final stretch, the period was mainly dominated, with both teams trying to score as they bounced back and forth between zones. The Ghost Pirates would score at 6:13 by Brent Pedersen and would trail by three goals.
Greenville wouldn’t give Savannah much of anything after that goal, however, as they would take back the swing of offensive momentum. Several minutes after the Ghost Pirates goal, Josh McKechney would score at 14:40 from Eberle’s assist. After that goal, Savannah would chip away a few shots on Bednard, but he and his d-core would deny the Savannah team. With much-needed offensive and defensive control at both ends, the Rabbits’ would come back with a win and end the three-game homestand with two wins before heading to Newfoundland.
Key takeaways: if the Rabbits’ could find a way to generate more offensive momentum and really pound everything they have on the opponent’s respective d-core, then they can really produce goals and results. This game against Savannah was a reminder of what the Greenville team can generate and really produce if they stick together and burn out a full tank for a full 60 minutes. The Growlers are a competitive team, previously in the eastern conference finals of the Kelly Cup Playoffs, and are a relatively championship team.