The streaking Columbus Cottonmouths have abandoned their earlier goal of making it into the playoffs. After a 4-2 victory over the Twin City Cyclones, the Snakes are aiming for more.
“We know the magnitude of these games,” forward Ryan McCarthy said. “We want home ice.”
With the Southern Professional Hockey League playoffs looming, the Cottonmouths took a giant step toward that lofty goal. The Cottonmouths are now in sole possession of second place with six games to play in the regular season.
Huntsville and Richmond were tied for second when the evening’s action began. Fayetteville beat Richmond and Knoxville took care of Huntsville to pave the way for the Cottonmouths to leap over both. The standings are still tight with the Snakes (59 points) leading Richmond and Huntsville by a point and Fayetteville by two. Twin City remains in the league cellar with 54 points.
Chad Rycroft got the win in net for the Snakes in his first start since Feb. 17. Rycroft hasn’t relished the role of spectator, but was suspended for five games for his role in the brawl against Twin City on Feb. 20.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been that excited to come and play,” Rycroft said. “Having two weeks off stinks.”
Rycroft expected retaliation from his battle with Twin City goalie Kevin Druce, whom he fought in the brawl, but there was none. The game got chippy in the third period, but nothing that approached the benches-clearning incident.
“Nobody thought there would be a fight tonight. The real idiot (Steve Obelnicki) is gone for the season,” Rycroft said.
Rycroft’s night wasn’t completely uneventful. He took a puck in the neck that dropped him to the ice for several minutes and gave up an unusual goal.
“The guy’s stick was under my pads,” Rycroft said of the second Cyclone goal.
At the time goals were at a premium. For the second straight night, the Snakes and their opponent were scoreless through two periods. Twin City ended the drought at the 2:39 mark of the third period. The Snakes got on the board just over three minutes later on their first of two power play goals.
Ryan Rutz did the honors, with assists from Brad Patterson and Ryan McCarthy. “That’s not the plan for us to wait until the third to score but that’s the way it worked out,” Rutz said. “We played the same as the first two periods but I think they got a little tired.”
Rutz was camped at the side of the net when the rebound popped right back to him. “My eyes got pretty big when I saw it coming,” Rutz said.
Twin City answered with a power play goal of its own but the Snakes seized momentum and control of the game just 30 seconds later. Marc Lefebvre put the Cyclones ahead at the 8:39 mark and Sam Bowles tied it at 9:12.
Bowles went in on Druce and stuffed the puck into the short side to even the score and unleash the Snakes offense. The Cottonmouths scored three times in 1:51 to secure the victory and second place. Tim Green and Ryan McCarthy added the last two goals.
Tempers flared with every stoppage of play late in the game. “The third period was probably the most intense period after the whistle since the brawl,” McCarthy said. “We knew we needed to win and they did too.”
The Snakes are now 6-0-1 in their last seven games and 11-2-2 since Feb. 1. The hit the road to Knoxville and Huntsville next weekend before returning home to face Fayetteville, Twin City and Huntsville. The regular season ends in Huntsville on March 21.