Good morning, Snakes fans! Have one eye open after arriving home at 3:30 AM. Quite possibly getting too old for this...after tomorrow, that is. :)
In the category of what could possibly go wrong, let me start the list...
A trip that should take FOUR and a half hours took FIVE and a half. Horrible traffic near Atlanta in which we crept along for what seemed like forever. Between my claustrophobia and anxiety that I could actually miss the drop of the puck, I was a wreck. Ya'all know I'm at the Civic Center when the folks are popping the popcorn. Lindsey and I got to Knoxville as warmups were ending...yikes. Not the closest I've cut it...Remember Pensacola, Dana? Another story.
Game day ops at the rink screeched to a halt as everybody stopped to help me. Bless their hearts. First my pal Mike Vee navigated the underbelly of the building to get me to Mark Atnip. Mark handed me over to one of the EMTs who escorted me to my press table (then stood by in case I backed over the edge, which happily I didn't). lol
Then wireless problems brought Dave Link of the Knoxville News Sentinel to my rescue, along with Dave Feather from the Ice Bears' front office. Thanks so much to both Daves! I know how crazy game day is and for all of the above to put aside their duties to help me was most appreciated.
A pregame visit from Dave Kessler and Danny Spencer made me feel at home. Always great to see those guys. When frostbite was setting in later, Dave even offered me his number 4 St. Patrick's Day jersey. Such a kind gesture. Afraid Dave would never have seen it again, though. Love those jerseys!! haha
Finally got a wireless connection that allowed me to post one tweet. Then it began acting funny (not a forensic term, I know) and I couldn't get it back...until I gave it one last desperate try when it was time to file my story. Thanks, computer gods...it worked!! Already had a plan B involving my more technologically savvy daughter, a flashdrive and a hunt for the Ice Bears' offices. Thankfully, plan A worked.
The Snakes had a crowded bench. Remember, all things are relative. For the Cottonmouths, a crowded bench is 18 players...YAY. It's been a while and, as has been the case all season, it didn't last long. Early in the third period, John Sullivan went down and was slow to pop back up. He headed to the bench kind of doubled over. As ya'all know, John underwent surgery recently and spent 5 weeks on the shelf, intensely rehabilitating the shoulder and desperately working to get back on the ice.
He returned for at least one shift, Lindsey and I both noted, but I'm not sure how much ice time he saw for the remainder of the game. Hope John is ok. He certainly deserves a break...no pun intended. :(
My vantage point in Knoxville is a little strange. I'm near the Cottonmouths players' entrance and locker room, most convenient later in the evening, and kind of beside and a little behind the goalie. I had a good view of Andrew Loewen in the first and third periods. A good view doesn't mean I see everything, though...haha.
I do know my goalies after three and six years, respectively. Neither are Superman, though one broke all SPHL goaltending records this year...:) Both let in goals, both good and bad, but neither are chronic complainers. One of my cues to the validity of a goal is Andrew or Ian Vigier's reaction.
Andrew immediately protested that the Matt Pierce goal was directed with a high stick. In the fast pace of hockey, I'm the first to admit I didn't see it clearly. I saw a stick that was high, but didn't see the flight of the puck. Felt a little better when Sam Bowles said he didn't see it clearly either...and he was on the ice!
This wasn't that big a deal at the time but became so in hindsight. Scoring first, especially on the road, is huge. So, scratch that. Killing any and all penalties is pretty big too. The Snakes were only 9 seconds from killing of the Jordan Braid tripping penalty.
Jordan's penalty was the first of the night. We didn't know it at the time, but it was the first of few, not unusual in playoff hockey. Despite having two refs, there were only six minors called all night, plus a couple when a message-sending scrum broke out at the final horn. More on that later.
Knoxville converted on 1 of 2 chances. The Snakes failed all four times. The difference in the game, in my opinion.
The Snakes finished with 19 SOG, a pretty low number, but in playoff hockey not that big a deal. The problem is that they had so few quality chances. The Snakes trailed in the final SOG tally, 25-19.
Andrew had his usual solid game in net, what we've come to expect this season. He was sprawled out all over the place, his arms and legs flailing, but he stopped several intense Knoxville flurries. At one point, Andrew spent probably 30 seconds without his stick. Talk about the Survivor...haha.
Knoxville inexplicably threw 8 shots on net in the third, to only 2 for the Snakes...and the Ice Bears held the lead going into the third!! Granted, it was just 1-0, but they were desperate to build a two-goal cushion, more so than the Snakes were to get the equalizer.
I'm not saying the effort wasn't there. It definitely was. They played a physical, intense game. But the passes weren't connecting and many shots didn't get through. Knoxville played a strong defensive game, though they didn't throw anything new at the Snakes. I asked Bret Tyler after the game and he said no surprises there.
At the final horn, a grab-your-partner scrum occurred at the far end. Daniel Amesbury and Kevin Flather received meaningless minors for roughing at the 20:00 mark. Uh, meaningless to this game, that is...
The Snakes absolutely will not go down without a fight.
I could drag out every cliche in the book about tonight's game, but everybody, including and especially the players, knows where we stand. Win and head to Knoxville tomorrow. Lose and the dream of hoisting a second Cup ends.
Today is Jerome Bechard's 44th birthday. Notice I didn't say "happy" birthday" as that remains to be seen.