Snakes havefailed to scorein last three postseason games
By KATHY GIERER
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
The Columbus Cottonmouths are searching for a way to ignite their offense. If they are unable to, Friday's game against the Peoria Rivermen will be the final one of the season.
Game 2 of the SPHL opening-round series is set for 7:30 p.m. the at the Columbus Civic Center.
Peoria retained home ice advantage and took the opener of the best-of-three series with a 2-0 shutout win in Game 1 at the Peoria Civic Center on Wednesday night.
If the Snakes win Friday night, the series moves back to Peoria on Sunday at 6:15 p.m.
Peoria goaltender Kyle Rank finished the regular season with 19 wins, eight shutouts, a 1.89 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage. The Snakes have their work cut out for them, figuring out how to solve the league's top goalie.
The Cottonmouths feature a balanced offensive scheme that includes two legitimate scoring lines.
Sam Bowles, Jordan Draper and Matt Gingera compose the Snakes' top scoring line. The trio has played together since mid-January, two weeks after Bowles came out of retirement to lace up the skates one more time.
The Snakes' other scoring line of Neilsson Arcibal, Preston Shupe and Tory Allan suffered a major blow when Allan went down with a season-ending knee injury on March 1. Allan was briefly replaced by Steve Mele, who left for Tulsa two weeks later. Rookie Shayne Stockton, a recent Holy Cross graduate, has stepped into the Arcibal-Shupe line.
The checking line of Will
Aide, Dan Bremner, Alex Gallant and Levi Lind also plays a vital role in providing the Cottonmouths with offensive balance.
Prior to Allan's injury, the two top lines shared the spotlight.
"Things were going so well," Bowles said. "We were rolling. Our line contributed one night and the next night they would."
"We all just played," Draper said. "We didn't have to worry about who was carrying the load."
Bowles, Gingera and Draper contributed 59 of the team's 183 regular-season goals (32 percent). Arcibal, Shupe, Allan and Mele chipped in 54 goals (29.5 percent). Bowles, Gingera and Draper scored 131 points in a combined 138 games played.
When Bowles arrived on Jan. 2, he initially played with Gingera and Bremner. After two weekends together, Bechard made what turned out to be a significant change.
"We were not as consistent as he wanted," Bowles said. "So he shook things up and put Jordan with us. He added a whole other element of creativity. He and I played two games together and it was like instant chemistry."
Each of the players brings different skills to the line. Bowles, in his sixth Snakes season, blended with the rookie Draper and second-year pro Gingera.
"The other two are more natural goal scorers," Bowles said. "I'm the third guy in. These two are incredibly gifted offensively."
Draper was given his role by Bechard.
"Jerome called me a banger," Draper said. "I'm first in on the forecheck."
Gingera plays with a certain attitude.
"I play with a chip on my shoulder," Gingera said. "We all contribute that way."
The Snakes entered the playoffs second in the league on the power play and fourth on the penalty kill. Bowles, Draper and Gingera have played a major role in the Snakes' special teams success. The three contributed a whopping 50 points while on the power play, 22 goals and 28 assists. They expect special teams to play a major role in postseason play.
"Power play and goaltending are the biggest things in the playoffs," Gingera said.
Though playoff games tend to feature fewer minor penalties, Bowles thinks the power play could be a deciding factor.
"The way the games are called, we could get a lot of chances," Bowles said.
The Snakes have battled inconsistency all season.
"(A lack of) consistency is our No. 1 problem," Bowles said. "When you have too many highs and lows, you're not going to be successful. Consistency comes in harping on doing the little things. We tend to get distracted. Then we stop and need a refresher."