The Columbus Cottonmouths returned to the friendly confines of the Columbus Civic Center trying to change their fortunes in Game 2 of the Southern Professional Hockey League finals against the Pensacola Ice Flyers.
What happened instead was almost a replay of Game 1.
The result was the Ice Flyers posting a 5-1 victory and earning their second straight President's Cup.
After the Snakes lost the opener in Pensacola on Thursday, they refocused for their possible elimination game at home on Saturday.
"Nothing changed," Cottonmouths coach Jerome Bechard said. "We needed to execute. We had opportunities, but we didn't execute. We coughed up the puck too much."
Despite the obvious disappointment, Bechard expressed pride in his players and their accomplishments.
"We battled all year," Bechard said. "We had our ups and downs, but we came together at the right time. We thought we had them figured out. You have to hand it to Pensacola. They're a good hockey team."
Second-year pro Kyle Johnson served as team captain this year. Johnson struggled to control his emotions as the Snakes' season ended.
"I'm so proud of our team," Johnson said. "At one point, we were in last place, but we came back and showed great resiliency. Give credit to Pensacola. They did what they had to do."
After being thumped 9-1 in the opener, the Snakes didn't change their goals drastically.
"We knew we could bounce back," Johnson said. "We had to play together as a group. We knew we would leave it all on the ice, and we did. We gave it all we had."
The crowd of 4,127 was treated to fireworks after the first puck dropped.
The Snakes' enforcer Alex Gallant dropped the gloves with Pensacola's Mitchell Good two seconds into the game.
Pensacola took an early 2-0 making the game eerily reminiscent of Game 1, where the Snakes fell into a 3-0 hole. The difference was that it took a little longer for Pensacola to find the net and the Snakes had a more manageable comeback to make.
Brett Lutes scored both Pensacola goals, one at the 2:18 mark and the other at 7:43. Then the Snakes got on the board, trimming the lead to a single goal, 2-1. Preston Shupe was the only Cottonmouth to score, deflecting a Jason Gray shot past goaltender Ross MacKinnon.
The second period began with the Snakes still in the hunt but they were in a deep hole by the end of the period. Three Pensacola goals, including one on the power play, gave the Ice Flyers an insurmountable 5-1 lead.
The Snake struggled against Pensacola in all four meetings this season, two in the regular season and two in the playoffs. Pensacola outscored Columbus 25-4 overall, 11-2 in the regular season and 14-2 in the SPHL finals.
Top-seeded Pensacola swept the eighth-seeded Mississippi Surge, took the seventh-seeded Knoxville Ice Bears in three games and swept No. 6 Columbus. The Snakes took two of three from Peoria, swept Huntsville and dropped both games to Pensacola.
Saturday at the Columbus Civic Center
Pensacola 2 3 0--5
Columbus 1 0 0--1
First period--1, Pensacola, Lutes (Bergin, Baker) 2:18; 2, Pensacola, Lutes (Baker) 7:43; 3, Columbus, Shupe (Gray) 11:35. Penalties--Gallant, Columbus (fighting, equipment violation) :02; Good, Pensacola (fighting, equipment violation) :02; Aide, Columbus (charging) 1:56; Banfield, Pensacola (goaltender interference) 1:56; Lind, Columbus (roughing) 4:11; Whitely, Pensacola (cross-checking) 8:09; Gallant, Columbus (roughing) 16:17.
Second period--4, Pensacola, Banfield (Amburghey, Rodrigues) 8:21; 5, Pensacola, Banfield (Whitely, Rodrigues) 11:15; 6, Pensacola, Dunbar (Gates, Salvis) PPG 16:40. Penalties--Gates, Pensacola (slashing) 7:47; Arcibal, Columbus (unsportsmanlike conduct, diving) 7:47; Gates, Pensacola (hooking) 12:52; Aide, Columbus (unsportsmanlike conduct) 15:56.
Third period--None. Penalties--Gallant, Columbus (roughing) 13:31; Good, Pensacola (roughing) 13:31.
Shots on goal--Pensacola 16-10-4--30. Columbus 6-12-4--22
Power plays: Pensacola 1 of 3; Columbus 0 of 2.
Goaltenders: Loewen (loss) 60:00. 30-25-5; MacKinnon (win) 60:00. 22-21-1.
Referees: MacDougall, Anderson. Linesmen: Madsen, Rawn. Time: 2:19. Attendance: 4,127