The Columbus Cottonmouths clinched a berth in the Southern Professional Hockey League playoffs with a 6-4 victory over Fayetteville before 2,691 on Sunday afternoon at the Civic Center.
The crowd witnessed the shorthanded Snakes get production from all three scoring lines.
Led by John Sullivan’s 10th goal of the season, six Cottonmouths scored. Jordan Braid completed a productive weekend with a goal and an assist. Defenseman Kevin Kessler scored his first goal as a Snake and Pete MacDougall, Orrin Hergott and Mitch Wall chipped in one goal each.
The recently reunited Braid-Sullivan-Brett Hammond line contributed 7 points.
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“It always helps when you score early,” Sullivan said. “I’ve played with Jordan for a while and we have a good feel for each other out there on the ice. Brett has been back with us for two games since he was injured. Balanced scoring is important, especially in the playoffs.”
Sullivan scored a season-high three points. Hammond tossed in a pair of assists. Braid and Mitch Wall each had one goal and one assist. Braid was the offensive hero in Augusta on Friday night with two goals and an assist in a 5-4 shootout win over first-place Augusta.
“Our line is clicking right now,” Braid said. “I like playing with Brett and John. We have a good chemistry and it good to know where each other is going to be out there.”
The Snakes faced a desperate team in Fayetteville. The FireAntz underwent a coaching change earlier in the week and are 1-2 under Todd Bidner. Fayetteville occupies the SPHL basement and, if the season ended today, would miss the playoffs for the second straight year.
“They’re a hungry team,” Kessler said. “They have a lot of offensive weapons and keep gunning for you. They’re a dangerous team.”
The Snakes played their second straight game without Kessler’s defensive partner, Andrew Krelove. Krelove played a pair of games with South Carolina of the ECHL and is headed back to Columbus today.
Also missing from the Snakes lineup was enforcer Daniel Amesbury. Amesbury and Knoxville’s Kyle Watson were suspended for three games after leaving the bench to fight at the end of the second period on Friday night. Forward Ryan Pearson was signed to another three-game tryout.
The game marked a gloomy homecoming for former Cottonmouth Jesse Cole. Cole was introduced as a starter for the Antz and received a nice ovation from the crowd. But Cole didn’t take the ice to start the contest and played only a couple of shifts in the first period before retreating to the locker room. Suffering from the flu, Cole planned to stay in Columbus overnight before returning to Fayetteville.
Erik Hudson started in net for the Antz. Sullivan’s goal gave the Snakes a 1-0 lead after the first period. After the Snakes scored three goals in 7:39 of the second, Bidner replaced Hudson with Mike Brown. Brown yielded one goal in the second period and one in the third.
With the victory, the Snakes are only one point behind second-place Knoxville and trail first-place Augusta by 10 points. The Snakes have 13 regular-season games remaining and Augusta has 12. The teams meet five more times, twice in Augusta and three times at the Civic Center.
The Snakes hit the road for the next two games, Tuesday night in Huntsville and Friday night at Pensacola.
Sunday at the Civic Center
Fayetteville 0 2 2--4
Columbus 1 4 1--6
First period--1, Columbus, Sullivan (Braid) 7:20. Penalties--Sullivan, Columbus (hooking) 9:37; McQuade, Fayetteville (slashing) 12:53; Hammond, Columbus (tripping) 18:32.
Second period--2, Columbus, Kessler (Hammond, Sullivan) 6:08; 3, Fayetteville, Atkinson (unassisted) 7:46; 4, Columbus, Wall (Sullivan) 10:49; 5, Fayetteville, Forgie (Smyth, Rebernik) 12:50 PPG; 6, Columbus, Braid (Hammond) 13:47; 7, Columbus, Hergott (Beller) 17:51. Penalties--Barlow, Columbus (hooking) :41; Wall, Columbus (unsportsmanlike conduct) 10:49; McQuade, Fayetteville (slashing) 14:04; Kessler, Columbus (holding) 14:04.
Third period--8, Fayetteville, Sich (Cryer, Frieday) 1:19; 9, Columbus, MacDougall (Pearson, Wall) 4:52; 10, Fayetteville, Pens (Sich) 6:27.
Shots on goal: Fayetteville 7-7-5--19; Columbus 13-17-21--51
Power plays: Columbus 0 of 4; Fayetteville 1 of 5.
Goaltenders: Vigier (win) 60:00, 19-15-4; Hudson (loss) 33:47, 30-25-4; Brown 22:09, 21-20-2. Referee: Pitoscia. Linesmen: Frommert, Daisy.
Time: 2:21. Attendance: 2,691.