DULUTH — South Carolina scored two goals in the first eight minutes of the third period to break up a tie game and spoil the Atlanta Gladiators season debut Friday.
The dagger was Dylan Steman's shot smashed into the back of the net at 7:36. Steman was standing in the slot, surrounded by yellow and blue jerseys, and no one tied him up in any way.
The Gladiators gave themselves a shot down the stretch, getting within a goal at 17:11. Scott Conway potted a rebound from the far post with assists to Daniel Hannoun and Samuel Asselin.
But the Stingrays scored into an empty net with 57 seconds left and walked away with a 5-3 victory at Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth.
Goaltender Sean Bonar was on his way off the ice, pulled for the extra attacker, when the rush came back through the neutral zone. Bonar couldn't make it back in time and defenseman Eddie Wittchow sealed the win.
“You could see it was the first time we played,” head coach Jeff Pyle said. “We were good in some phases. We were sloppy in our D zone at times. I'm sure Bones will say he should have made an extra save or two, but we didn't work hard enough. That's where we have to get better. From guys who know better, we have to be smarter and play hard every shift.
“I saw some things that I liked so I'm not worried, but there has to be more urgency from everybody for every shift. I think we think we're better than we are. You have to prove that you're good.”
The home opener was the first of three games in 48 hours. Atlanta remains here for a game against Greenville on Saturday and then travels to Greenville for a Sunday matinee.
The Gladiators missed a lot of chances. They were officially outshot 35-26, but that's a reflection of having pushed many shots high or wide of the net.
“We didn't shoot some pucks, too, so we'll learn as we go along,” Pyle said. “Again, it's a matter of, shut up and buy in. Everybody has to do that. Early in the season you're not going to have the chemistry so I'm not really worried about that. I was just disappointed that we didn't work a little bit harder in phases where we could have controlled it.
“We could have played better defensively to give ourselves a chance to get the lead, but we didn't. We were chasing it the whole night.”
South Carolina carved out a 2-0 lead before a last-minute goal got the Gladiators on the board in the first period.
Goaltender was bitten by a bad bounce and a defensive breakdown on the first goal. The puck caromed off the end boards and right to Casey Bailey in the left faceoff circle. Bailey was left unguarded and smashed the shot into an open net 4:20 into the game.
The Stingrays banged in a rebound during a scramble out front at 12:40 for the two-goal lead.
Atlanta cut the deficit in half with 10 seconds left in the period.
Dante Hannoun burst down the left wing with Joona Koppanen driving down the middle of the ice. Hannoun threaded a pass through the defender in the circle right to Koppanen's stick. The Boston prospect, assigned from AHL Providence two days ago, rang his shot off the near post and behind goalie Logan Thompson.
Atlanta tied it 2-2 on the only goal of the second period.
Defenseman Jack Stander unloaded a blast from the point into traffic. Nick Bligh tipped it past Thompson as he sliced through the slot with 1:58 left in the period.