Columbus posted a 3-0 victory over the visiting Mississippi RiverKings on Saturday at the Columbus Civic Center to complete a perfect weekend. The Snakes posted their third straight win and fifth in six games. More importantly, they gained six crucial points in the crowded Southern Professional Hockey League standings.
Pending the results of ninth-place Fayetteville's game against Huntsville, the Snakes are now tied for seventh place with the Mississippi Surge, nine points ahead of the FireAntz. Last-place Bloomington is three points behind Fayetteville. The Knoxville Ice Bears slipped into sixth place, one point ahead of the Snakes and Surge after shutting out Bloomington 5-0.
The Cottonmouths placed forward Tory Allan on the 30-day injured reserve list and brought back a familiar face. Steve Mele, who scored 17 points in his first 10 games as a Snake, left for South Carolina and later Utah of the ECHL. He was waived by Utah, paving the way for him to come back and slip into the Neilsson Arcibal-Preston Shupe line in place of Allan.
The line immediately produced, scoring a total of four points and two of the three Snakes goals.
Mele left the west coast at 5 a.m. and arrived in Columbus at 6 p.m. He hit the ice for warm-ups despite not having played with the team since Dec. 30. It was Mele's first game action in a month.
"We talked a little before the game," Mele said of his new linemates. "We were trying to get to know each other again and talk about what we were going to do."
Arcibal joked with Matt Gingera before the game, beginning a friendly competition.
"I told him I was going to score six tonight," Arcibal laughed.
Shupe described the loss of Allan and his point production.
"It's really a tough loss," Shupe said. "Our line was playing really well and he was a big part of our success. But it was good to get Steve back."
Loewen posted his fourth shutout of the year and second in four games. He did so despite having only four defenseman, in addition to to Levi Lind filling in on the blue line. Veteran defenseman Tom Maldonado was hurt in Friday night's game and sat out Saturday night, pending tests to determine the severity of his injury.
Loewen has lowered his goals-against average to 2.78 and raised his save percentage to .913. Loewen is currently ranked eighth among the league's goaltenders.
"I know there were questions about how we played at the start of the year," Loewen said. "But it's a process. Getting Steve back was great. He had a nice goal tonight."
Shupe got the Snakes on the board at the 12:34 mark of the opening period. The Snakes got off to a slow start, being outshot by the Kings 7-1 early. With Todd Hosmer in the penalty box for hooking, Arcibal took a long shot from just inside the blue line and Shupe tipped it in for a 1-0 Snakes lead. It was the Snakes' third shot on goal of the game.
Just 38 seconds later, Will Aide skated in on goaltender Matthew Krahn and blasted a shot that found the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
The final goal also came on the power play. This time it was Mele who took a pass from Arcibal and fired a one-timer past Krahn for a 3-0 Cottonmouths lead.
Special teams produced for the second night in a row. The power play was 7 of 13 during the three victories over the weekend and the penalty kill allowed only three goals in 15 tries.
The Snakes have a rare three straight home games next weekend. On Thursday night, Fayetteville comes to the Snake Pit. Bloomington is the Snakes' opponent for Friday and Saturday nights. Game time for all three games is 7:30.
Saturday at Civic CenterMississippi RK 0 0 0--0
Columbus 2 1 0--3
First period--1, Columbus, Shupe (Arcibal, Ronsberg) 12:34; 2, Columbus, Aide (Gingera) 13:12. Penalties--Aide, Columbus (fighting) 3:50; Hayward, Mississippi (fighting) 3:50; Gallant, Columbus (fighting) 7:02; Grace, Mississippi (fighting) 7:02; Hosmer, Mississippi (hooking) 10:43; Gingera, Columbus (tripping) 18:52.
Second period--3, Columbus, Mele (Arcibal) 9:18. Penalties--Draper, Columbus (boarding major) :52; Sobotka, Mississippi (interference) 2:33; Levi Lind, Columbus (tripping) 3:40; Willigar, Columbus (fighting) 6:14; Jones, Mississippi (fighting) 6:14; Sheldrake, Mississippi (fighting) 6:25; Lind, Columbus (fighting) 6:25; Smyth, Mississippi (hooking) 7:32; Lind, Columbus (high-sticking) 18:26.
Third period--None. Penalties--Sheldrake, Mississippi (slashing) 10:39; Gray, Columbus (tripping) 11:10; Gray, Columbus (tripping) 15:03.
Goaltenders: Loewen (win) 60:00, 25-25-0; Krahn (loss) 60:00, 28-25-3.
Power plays: Columbus 2 of 3; Mississippi 0 of 7
Referee: Howard. Linesmen: Dloughy, Kuerston.
Time: 2:25 Attendance: 3,239.