Eight months to the day after their last victory on home ice, the Columbus Cottonmouths built a 2-1 lead in their Tuesday night game at the Civic Center against Huntsville, determined to pick up their first home win of the season.
After three unanswered Havoc goals, two in the last 18 seconds of the game, the Snakes were still searching for that elusive win and wondering how one got away in a 4-2 Huntsville victory.
It seemed like the game was tailor-made for Columbus to emerge victorious for the first time in their last seven home games, dating back to a 2-0 win against Fayetteville on March 22 of last season.
Mechanical problems with the Havoc’s bus and their delayed arrival pushed the start time back more than 45 minutes. Surely, the Cottonmouths would take advantage of the Huntsville “bus legs” and come out firing, and they did just that.
The Snakes outshot the Havoc 16-9 in the first period, with Corey Tyrell’s early goal giving the Cottonmouths the first lead all season at home. However, Columbus gave up their second shorthanded goal in as many games less than three minutes later as Ryan Wilkinson skated in alone on Snakes goaltender Lukas Hafner, roofing a shot just under the crossbar to knot the score at 1-1 heading into the second period.
Jonathan Turk re-established the Snakes’ one-goal lead just 88 seconds into the middle frame, but the Havoc would tie the score again in the latter half of the period as Dylan Nowakowski wristed the puck from just inside the blue line through traffic in front, and a screened Hafner didn’t see it until it was in the back of the net to tie the score again at 2-2 after forty minutes.
The teams played back-and-forth hockey in the third period until another seeing-eye puck, this one off the stick of Havoc defenseman Justin Tateson, beat Hafner through traffic with just 18 seconds left in regulation. Sy Nutkevitch added an empty-net tally for the game’s final score.
“It’s a heartbreaker,” said Snakes head coach Jerome Bechard. “Again, it’s one of those games where I think we deserved better. Hafner played great in net again and made all the saves he had to make. Two shots he didn’t see, you can’t blame him on that. We go down to block a shot we probably don’t have to, and guys are running around. If Tateson isn’t 6-foot-5 with a ten-foot reach, that puck goes behind the blue line, no harm, no foul.”
“Every coach says the same thing: get traffic in front of the net, and if the goaltender can’t see it, it’s tough to make a save,” said Havoc head coach Glenn Detulleo. “We work on it every day, and guys get rewarded for that.
“It was a difficult situation for both teams. They’re waiting around for us, and we’re on the bus, so it’s not ideal circumstances. But both teams played extremely hard, and you knew it was going to come down to maybe a lucky break at the end of the game.”
Despite the loss, the Snakes had many more offensive chances Tuesday night than they did in their 2-1 loss to Mississippi on Saturday night. Both Columbus and Huntsville finished with 33 shots on goal.
“All in all, we executed the game plan,” Bechard said. “I wasn’t happy with some of our unforced turnovers where we give them an odd-man rush or an opportunity. One cost us a goal…it’s a learning curve.
“It’s a snowball effect. When one guy plays sloppy, the next guy does it. When you play simple and are banging, that gets people going and gets energy going. I think we had spurts of that in all three periods but not consistently the whole game. We’re a young hockey team.”
The Cottonmouths drop to 4-6-0 on the season and 0-4-0 at home, while Huntsville now sits all alone in second place in the SPHL standings at 8-2-0.
“In this league, it’s tough to win, so whenever you can take wins, you’ve got to take them,” Detulleo said. “We’re excited to start 8-2, but at the same time, it’s just the start of the year. We know there’s a lot of hockey left. We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied.”
“I’m pretty disappointed to be 0-4 at home,” Bechard said. “We shouldn’t be 0-4 at home, that’s for sure, but we are. There’s nothing we can do about it but lick our wounds and come back on Friday.”
The Cottonmouths entertain Mississippi for the second time in six days at the Civic Center on Friday night, with a 7:30 p.m. scheduled puck drop.
Tuesday at Columbus Civic Center
First period – Scoring: 1, COL, Tyrell (Spraggs) 4:27; 2, HSV, Wilkinson (Piluso) 7:00 SH. Penalties: Tateson, HSV (high-sticking) 5:17; Gingera, COL (boarding) 12:17; Nutkevitch, HSV (elbowing) 16:55.
Second period – Scoring: 3, COL, Turk (Simchuk, Galbraith) 1:28; 4, HSV, Nowakowski (Nutkevitch, Clewlow) 14:19. Penalties: R. Hafner, COL (delay of game) 18:03.
Third period – Scoring: 5, HSV, Tateson (Fellnermayr, Piluso) 19:42; 6, HSV, Nutkevitch (Simpson) 19:58 EN. Penalties: Carriveau, HSV (elbowing) 13:52; Pompeo, COL (interference) 15:31; R. Hafner, COL (10-minute misconduct) 19:58.
Shots on goal: Huntsville 9-10-14—33; Columbus 16-9-8—33.
Power plays: Huntsville 0-3, Columbus 0-3.
Goaltenders: Huntsville, Steel (win) 59:59, 33 shots, 31 saves; Columbus, L. Hafner (loss) 59:48, 32 shots, 29 saves.
Referees: Bruggeman, Holton; Linesmen: Houle, Long.