Hughes nets first career hat trick in offensive explosion

Published: Nov. 6, 2022 at 7:30 PM EST
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. - Bear Hughes netted a hat trick for his first three professional goals as the South Carolina Stingrays (5-1-0-0) offense exploded for a 9-7 victory over the Orlando Solar Bears (1-4-1-0) Sunday afternoon at the North Charleston Coliseum.

Kevin O’Neil opened the scoring 1:33 into the first period, netting his third goal of the season. O’Neil broke across the blue line and fired a shot from the top of the right circle through the five-hole of Orlando’s Jack LaFontaine for the 1-0 lead.

The Stingrays doubled the lead on Alex Fortin’s second goal of the year nearly three minutes later. Jonny Evans intercepted a Solar Bears’ pass and fed Fortin in the slot for the lefty’s second in the last two games.

Orlando retaliated on the power play just under 13 minutes into the first period as Andrew Sturtz found the back of the net. Sturtz raced into the zone on a two-on-one rush and buried the puck top-shelf to cut the Stingrays lead in half.

South Carolina tacked on with a pair of goals from Bear Hughes and Josh Wilkins on the power play before the period expired. Hughes received a pass on the inside of the right circle where the rookie squared up with LaFontaine and fired home his first goal of the season with 2:29 remaining in the first period. Wilkins tucked his second goal of the year 33 seconds later on a backdoor feed from Justin Florek.

Orlando changed netminders and had Brad Barone start the second period in net. After nine minutes of scoreless play in the second frame, Hughes received a similar pass from Carter Turnbull and netted his second power play goal of the afternoon to expand the Stingrays lead to 5-1.

Orlando struck back with two goals from Karl El-Mir and Joe Carroll within the next 3:07. While shorthanded, El-Mir slapped a puck from the left circle that beat South Carolina’s Tyler Wall for his first of the season. Carroll added another with a snipe from the left circle to chop the deficit back to two.

The Stingrays finished the period by scoring four unanswered goals for the 9-3 lead at the end of 40 minutes. Hughes set up in front of the net and redirected a shot from Connor Moore for his third goal of the night and first career hat trick.

Back on the power play, Evans threw the defender into the boards and stole the puck before he fed O’Neil net front for the seventh goal of the night. O’Neil tapped home his second of the afternoon and fourth on the season.

Turnbull joined the fun just over a minute later, tallying his fifth goal of the season. The forward side-stepped an Orlando defender and raced to the right circle where he shot the puck over the shoulder of Barone for the 8-3 lead. Orlando returned LaFontaine to the net in relief of Barone.

Michael Kim finished the scoring for the Stingrays with his first of the season late in the second period. With only 42 seconds remaining, Kim fired a slapshot from the left point that ricocheted past LaFontaine for the ninth Stingrays goal of the game.

Orlando fired back with four unanswered goals of their own in the third period beginning just under two minutes into the final frame on Tyler Bird’s first of the campaign. Standing at the top of the crease, Bird took a couple of whacks at the puck before it hopped over the netminder and into the back of the net.

Sturtz added his second of the game two and a half minutes later as he set up on the backdoor and tapped in a feed from Carroll.

Ross Olsson’s fourth of the season inched the Solar Bears closer over the halfway point in the period. Olsson stole the puck on the left circle and skated to the endline where he threaded the puck to the top shelf for the sixth Orlando goal of the contest.

Bird tacked on his second of the game with 1:27 remaining in regulation to pull within two goals of South Carolina. Wall made the initial save, but Bird swatted a rebound over the netminder for his second goal of the year.

The Stingrays return to action this Tuesday, November 8th when the team travels to Jacksonville, FL for a 10:30 a.m. game against the Icemen.