By Andrew Miller
Of The Post and Courier Staff
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – With Washington Capitals head coach Glen Hanlon and general manager George McPhee looking on Thursday night, one could understand if goaltender Maxime Daigneault might have been a little nervous against the Columbia Inferno.
But if the rookie was nervous, he didn’t show it.
Daigneault made 22 saves and Kevin Spiewak scored two first-period goals to lead South Carolina past Columbia, 3-2, before a crowd of 3,536 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
With the victory, the Stingrays improved to 4-1-1 (9 points) and moved into a first-place tie with Pee Dee in the East Division of the American Conference. The Inferno dropped to 2-2-3 (7 points).
With the NHL lockout in place, Hanlon and McPhee wanted an opportunity to see the Capitals’ 2002 second-round draft pick and possibly the goalie of the future for the organization.
What they saw, they liked.
Daigneault improved to 3-0-0 on the season. Daigneault made two crucial saves, one a breakaway in the second period and the other a stop in the final seconds that preserved the victory.
“I think the most impressive thing I saw from Max was the save he made at the end with the game on the line,” Hanlon said. “It was a save (the Stingrays) needed, and he made it. I think from our standpoint, this is what our agreement is all about. It allows us to develop some players that might not be ready to play American (Hockey) League.
“For them to come down here and play and to be successful, it’s huge. Especially with a goalie like Max, this is a great league for him to develop.”
The Capitals already have a history of placing goalies in the ECHL. Olaf Kolzig, the Capitals’ top goalie, began his pro career with Hampton Roads.
“Olaf Kolzig started his career in the ECHL,” Hanlon said. “There are lots of players in the NHL that got their start in the ECHL. There’s not enough room for some players in the AHL or the NHL because of the way the leagues are structured. You usually have one player that’s going to give you a chance to win and then you want to develop that one extra goalie, so you need that extra spot. This is just a great arrangement for us to have.”
Afterward, Hanlon came up to Daigneault and congratulated him on his effort. The soft-spoken Daigneault just shrugged off the compliment and, like most goalies, complained about the goal he gave up to Ryan Campbell in the third period that pulled Columbia to within 3-2.
“I was a little nervous,” Daigneault said. “Every time in juniors that there was a scout there I had butterflies in my stomach. I know I have to perform well, but it’s a part of the game and I have to deal with it. I thought I played well tonight. I would have liked to have had that one goal back in the third period. It just got under me.”