By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – South Carolina captain Cail MacLean hopes the Stingrays learned their lesson last series against Gwinnett.
The Stingrays were leading the best-of-five South Division semifinal series with Gwinnett, 2-0, heading down to The Arena at Gwinnett Center. All the momentum in the series was clearly with the Stingrays as Game 3 appeared to be just a mere formality as they moved onto the South Division finals.
Then a funny thing happened. Well, it wasn’t so funny for the Stingrays, who watched the Gladiators win back-to-back games in their own building to force a decisive Game 5. While South Carolina eventually won Game 5 against the Gladiators, 2-0, MacLean hopes the Stingrays learned a valuable lesson about playoff hockey.
“It’s not over until you’re shaking hands with the other team,” Mac-Lean said. “Everything seemed to be going our way against Gwinnett in the first two games at our place. I think a little bit of complacency might have set in and before we knew it the series was tied, 2-2.”
The Stingrays are facing a similar scenario on Friday when they travel to Columbia to take on the Inferno in Game 3 of the best-of-five South Division finals.
The Stingrays lead the series with Columbia, 2-0, and can move on to the American Conference with a victory on Friday.
“Columbia is a very good team and we absolutely can’t take them for granted,” MacLean said. “I’d like to think we learned our lesson against Gwinnett. We had a commanding lead over Gwinnett and we didn’t take care of business in their building and we nearly lost the series. If we’ve got a chance to finish the series, we’ve got to go ahead and finish it. Columbia is very capable of winning the next three games if we don’t play like we’re capable of.”
MacLean expects to see a totally different Inferno team tonight at the Carolina Coliseum.
“They’re facing elimination in their building, so I expect we’ll see their best game of the series,” MacLean said. “They’re a lot like Gwinnett in that they are a different team when they’re playing in their building. They seem to gain a lot of confidence playing there and then that building has a way of taking your confidence away from you.”
The Stingrays were 4-1 against the Inferno at the Carolina Coliseum during the regular season.
“They didn’t have all their players during the regular season and now they’ve got everyone back from the American (Hockey) League,” said Stingrays coach Jared Bednar. “You have to keep things simple in their building. They’ve got a very good transition game, so any mistakes you make are going to end up in the back of your net.”
The smaller ice surface at the Carolina Coliseum will force the Stingrays to slightly change their playing style.
“You can’t get fancy in the neutral zone,” MacLean said. “The neutral zone is so small that you just try to gain the red line and get the puck deep. You have to simplify your game and not try to get cute in the neutral zone.”