Three games, three nights, three points.
It’s a weekend of threes for the Columbus Cottonmouths as they play three games from Friday night through Sunday afternoon. The Snakes are in Tennessee to face the Knoxville Ice Bears on Friday and Saturday, with Friday’s game in progress as of press time. They return home Sunday to face the Fayetteville FireAntz.
For the Snakes, it’s a matter of jump-starting their offense from their lapse over the past week and dodging the cloud of uncertainty on the team’s future after the Thursday announcement of the franchise seeking new ownership.
Only expansion Evansville scores a lower goals per game average than the 2.43 a game Columbus has scored on the season to date. After exploding for a seven-goal effort in a win over league-leading Huntsville at home on Feb. 18, the Cottonmouths scored two goals in a shootout loss two days later at Mississippi then failed to score a single goal in their past two games — a 4-0 loss in Huntsville last Friday night and a 1-0 loss at home against Fayetteville last Saturday.
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Despite the loss to the FireAntz, Fayetteville head coach Jeff Bes gave the Snakes credit.
“Columbus is a good team,” Bes said after the win last Saturday. “They come out and work hard each and every night. They’re going to be a sleeper, if you want my opinion. They work hard, they’re banding together, and they have a lot to play for. They’re a heck of a hockey club.
“They’re a fast team. You have to neutralize their speed. It’s always a hard-fought battle when you play the Cottonmouths.”
While the Cottonmouths have been through a goaltending merry-go-round of sorts this season, with seven netminders seeing playing time, Fayetteville has pushed their chips all in on Sean Bonar, who currently leads the league in wins and carries an SPHL-best 2.03 goals-against average into the weekend. He was the starting goaltender Friday night in Huntsville, his 28th consecutive game in net for the FireAntz. Should he play Saturday in Huntsville and again Sunday afternoon in Columbus, it will be a whopping 30 straight games out of the 56-game season that Bonar has been between the pipes for Fayetteville.
“When the kid wants to play, you let him play,” Bes said. “He’s earned every bit of it. I’ve always said you show me a good goaltender, and I’ll show you a good coach. He’s probably one of the best professionals in the game. He’s a class act all the way around.”
“Endurance-wise, I try my best every summer to do more than anyone else to get in the best possible shape I can,” Bonar said. “That’s kind of been my M.O. for a long time. During the season, I really started taking care of myself in getting enough sleep, eating the right things, being a pro away from the rink as well. That really helps in my recovery time and keep playing.”
After Sunday, only 13 games remain for the Cottonmouths in the regular season, just five of those at home. They enter this weekend three points behind Roanoke for the eighth and final playoff spot in the league standings.