Greenville, SC—After taking on the Orlando Solar Bears in a two game homestand last week, the Swamp Rabbits would face another Florida team at home: the Jacksonville Icemen.
Game One—January 20, 2024
It was NASCAR night for the Swamp Rabbits, as the Greenville team in specialty racer jerseys had a packed crowd of nearly 7k.
The first twenty minutes would be dominated by the Icemen, as tight forechecks and excellent defensive coverage would assist them in retaining an advantage over the Swamp Rabbits. At 2:17, Damien Giroux scored the first goal after an intense pressure episode on Luke Richardson. Then, at 2:43, the Rabbits’ would go on their first powerplay of the game. However, that would get botched after a successful penalty kill, as the Rabbits could not post a single shot on Matt Vernon. Minutes after their successful PK, the Icemen would use the momentum to their advantage by applying good pressure on Greenville. Because of that, Jacksonville would score the second goal by Garret Cockerill as he was unassisted in the o-zone and toe-dragged the puck past Richardson from a motored rush. After Cockerill’s goal, the Rabbits would receive another powerplay opportunity, but only to get rammed by the Icemens’ PK unit once more, as Jacksonville would post two shots on Richardson during the kill. After another unsuccessful PP, the Rabbits would later get awarded a penalty shot to Tanner Eberle. But… They still wouldn’t be able to put anything on the board. Instead, Jacksonville did. Oliver Nadeau would be the one to score on the power play, as he sniped the puck in the left-wing end that would squeeze past Richardson on the top shelf – at 17:18.
At the end of twenty minutes, Jacksonville would hold a three-o lead over the Rabbits.
With still more hockey to play came perseverance from both teams. Though, consequently, that would come with a whole round of rotations between o-zone pressure. For the majority of the second period, it would be mainly Greenville controlling the momentum, but Jacksonville didn’t let their foot off the gas. Richardson got pulled before the start of the second stretch as Bednard replaced him. At 16:30, a short-handed rush by Colton Young would put the Jacksonville d-men and Vernon on high alert. With focus and determination to score, Young would score to put the Rabbits’ on the board after pushing the puck past the pads of Vernon. However, the goal would go to a lengthy official review, but the call on the ice would stand regardless: good goal.
With a little bit of breathing room for the Rabbits, the Greenville team would trail by two goals approaching the buzzer. But, the Icemen flushed that one down the drain before the second intermission. Van Wyhe would score with 27 seconds left on the clock and extend his team’s lead to three.
Jacksonville would hold an edge over Greenville in the first three minutes of the third, as they would post four shots on Bednard, while the Rabbits’ would post none. Then, at the four-minute mark, the Swamp Rabbits’ would pressure Vernon and try to set something up to score. At 4:34, Joe Leahy would laser the puck past Vernon from a backdoor pass by Nick Prkusic and give his team some space to breathe before the final buzzer.
Leahy’s goal would boost his team to pressure even more, as they thus held strong motivation to score again, posting nine shots on Vernon before 16:21. With limited time left to score two goals and tie things up, Ryan Bednard would get pulled for the extra attacker. However, the man advantage would get pushed over by the Icemens’ intense backcheck, and consequently get poked away for Giroux to score his second of the game from an empty netter. And that would do it for the Rabbits’. There was still one game left between those two teams, though.
Game Two—January 21, 2024
The first period would start out great for Jacksonville once again. But not in terms of scoring. Despite them posting 11 shots on goal, Bednard would deny all of them, and only deny more henceforth. The Rabbits’, would get outworked and shadowed by Jacksonville, as they would only post three shots on Micheal Houser. However, that wouldn’t matter for the Greenville team, as they would score at 18:31 from Tanner Eberle. A change of pace for sure, as the first period would appear different from last night’s performance.
With the one goal lead for the Swamp Rabbits, the team would only score even more in the next stretch. At 4:09, point leader for the Rabbits’, Carter Souch, would hard wrist a shot from Prkusic’s assist and extend his team’s lead to 2-0. After Souch’s goal, Jacksonville would try to work their magic and muster up a goal as they posted four shots on Bednard before taking a penalty at 7:02. Trying to set something up, at 8:37, Josh McKechney would shoot on Houser, then get a pass from McManus to shoot again, but only this time score. Now turned tables, the Icemen would trail by three goals with still time to change the tides. After McKechney’s goal, the Icemen would post seven shots on Bednard; however the 6’5, all-star netminder, wearing orange and blue, would gobble up all those attempts and help his team retain that three-o lead.
For the third period, the Icemen would desperately try to score and ultimately find a way to tie things up. However, the ambition would get short-sighted. Despite posting way more shots on goal of 19, the Jacksonville team would only score just once. At 15:40, Oliver Nadeau would sling the puck past the stressed goaltender of Bednard and give his team a two goal trail with less than five minutes to muster up a tie. With desperation floating around the coaching staff, the Icemen would pull Houser for the extra attacker at 16:19 and post nine shots on Bednard with some intense pressure and rocket shots. However, as said before, Bednard made some incredible, much-needed saves for his team and really showed why he was an ECHL All-Star this season. After a full 60 of hockey, the Swamp Rabbits got a comeback win against Jacksonville and concluded their final home game of January on a high note.