Skating in their first game on home ice since their bus crash on Jan. 19, the Columbus Cottonmouths picked up an emotional 4-2 win Friday over the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs in front of a spirited crowd of 2,098 at the Columbus Civic Center.
After Roanoke took control of the game from the opening faceoff, the Cottonmouths wrestled control of the game back at the midway point of the first period and never relinquished it, finishing with a season-high 49 shots on goal.
“That was the game plan, to come in, pepper them, and put everything on net,” said Columbus head coach Jerome Bechard. “We got outshot the first part of the first period, then we got our bearings and got comfortable, and everyone started making plays. Their goalie played phenomenal the first period and a half and kept them in the game.”
Roanoke scored the first goal of the game in the second period, but the Cottonmouths responded with three straight goals. The newly formed 8-9-10 line of Jonathan Turk, Ben O’Quinn, and Craig Simchuk, the latter of whom served as captain in Friday’s game in the absence of Kyle Johnson, was responsible for two of those three goals.
“Everyone played great, but the Turk-Simchuk-O’Quinn line got us buzzing, created a lot, and really led the way,” Bechard said.
Defenseman Petr Senkerik was named the game’s first star with two points, assisting on a goal with a cross-ice pass that Keegan Bruce buried past Roanoke goaltender Ryan de Melo, then scoring the game-winning goal off assists from O’Quinn and Turk.
“Petr really sees that offensive side of the game,” Bechard said. “If he skates and moves his feet, he makes plays. That goal in the third period, finding Keegan on the back door, was all him. That was a big play.”
Friday’s game was also the first one for newly named co-coach Orrin Hergott behind the Columbus bench.
“It felt pretty good,” Hergott said. “There were no butterflies, really. I was anxious to get going. As the game went on, everyone got pretty comfortable with each other. It was an ugly game, but we did some good things, and hopefully keep it rolling.
“It was unbelievable. We should have had six or seven goals. We had a lot of chances, they just didn’t go in the second period. We’ve been stressing that the last couple of days here, put everything on net, crash the net. The biggest thing is just keeping things simple. We’re not a fancy team, we’re kind of an ugly team.”
Hergott controlled the lines for the forwards in Friday’s game, while Bechard ran the defensive pairings.
“There was the odd time I wasn’t sure who he was using on (special teams), stuff like that, but for the most part, it was pretty good,” Hergott said.
Veterans Levi Lind, Tom Maldonado, and Craig Stahl also returned to play in Friday’s game, joined by Nick Curry, who skated for the Snakes in 2014-15 and was the team’s assistant general manager earlier this season.
“Stahl, Levi, Tommy, Curry, they all at times controlled the play, sped it up, slowed it down, did the little things,” Bechard said. “They weren’t perfect by any means, but the calmness slowed everything down. In the third period, I think we really eliminated the mistakes, and we didn’t have as many turnovers as in the first and second.”
“I think that presence they had in the room and the ability to keep it loose but keep it serious at the same time was big,” Hergott said.
As tragic a situation as the bus accident may have been, the team is using the situation as an opportunity to reset and focus on the latter half of the season. With Friday’s win, the Cottonmouths pulled within four points of ninth-place Evansville and five points of eighth-place Roanoke. They have three games in hand on the Rail Yard Dogs and a whopping six games in hand on Evansville.
“As terrible a situation as it was, I think something like that can just bring a group of guys together,” Hergott said. “I told them let’s use this as a restart. Nobody’s really having the season they want to have, whether it’s points, plus-minus, whatever. Let’s win one here and just keep it going.”
Friday at Columbus Civic Center
First period – Scoring: none. Penalties: Turner, RNK (high-sticking) 8:16; Lind, COL (hooking) 17:09.
Second period – Scoring: 1, RNK, Mueller 7:16; 2, COL, Turk (Simchuk, O’Quinn) 17:40. Penalties: O’Quinn, COL (hooking) 10:29.
Third period – Scoring: 3, COL, Bruce (Kromm, Senkerik) :33; 4, COL, Senkerik (O’Quinn, Turk) 9:54; 5, RNK, Turner (Mueller) 11:08; 6, COL, Bathgate (Watt) 18:50 EN. Penalties: none.
Shots on goal: Roanoke 12-19-6—37; Columbus 19-15-15—49.
Power plays: Roanoke 0-2, Columbus 0-1.
Goaltenders: Roanoke, de Melo (loss) 58:39, 48 shots, 45 saves; Columbus, Bacon (win) 60:00, 37 shots, 35 saves.
Referee: Lupinek; Linesmen: Houle, Lorenz.