The regular season is over. For the first time in six years, I'm not sorry. This has been a rough year, filled with disappointment and underachievement.
The Snakes' final record is 22-27-7. They finished only three points ahead of Louisiana, three points away from being shut out of the playoffs.
I've been thinking back to the first season. In the spring of 2005, the Cottonmouths dropped the last three games of the regular season, closing out with a whimper being shut out twice in a row. Ouch.
Chad was in net then, having taken over on Feb. 22nd when Terry Friesen got hurt. Chad was hardly in top form, giving up 21 goals in his last 5 games.
Well, we all know how that season turned out. Chad caught fire and the Snakes blazed through the playoffs with a 5-0 record, still the only team in the SPHL's brief history to have an undefeated playoff run. They won twice on the road in the most improbable of circumstances. On April 1, 2005 they hoisted the very first President's Cup.
The odds were stacked strongly against them. As the number 5 seed, they had to go up to Fayetteville for a one-game, winner-take-all, survival match. They did just that, winning 4-2.
I remember thinking "why are they torturing us? Winning up in Fayetteville only to go to Knoxville and lose...ugh".
Knoxville was most unkind to the Snakes that season. They were 0-for-the-mini-rink in the regular season and now, the road to the championship had to begin in Knoxville. Check that one off the list: another 4-2 victory.
At that moment, I started to feel really good about their chances. A 3-2 overtime win at home over the regular season champions made me feel even better.
On to Macon, the final obstacle to a championship. A 5-1 road win followed by the overtime thriller at home.
Of all the memories I have of that night, the one of Craig raising the cup with tears streaming down his face will stay with me forever. It was his first and only championship. Now the Chief is retiring. Will they earn him a second ring? Is it remotely possible they could mount another improbable charge?
Fast forward to this season. The Snakes are entering the playoffs with zero momentum and coming off a forgettable season in which practically nothing went right. It's been a struggle game after game. They've been in a season-long tailspin with only occasional bright spots.
Do they match up well against Mississippi? Not particularly. The Surge are a very talented team and they play with heart and desire.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. I don't see the heart and character I usually see on guys with Snake heads on their sweaters.
I don't see consistency or real teamwork. I rarely see 60 minutes of solid hockey.
Do I think they have a chance to win this series? Of course they do!! The fact that it's a five-gamer instead of three is huge. Ironically, though, I think that gaining the five-game series is what will cost them a chance at the title.
They should have tried to build momentum these last few games instead of hoping for sixth place to get the longer series. I think you can't turn effort and intensity on and off like a light switch and expect to get results.
This team has been going through the motions for the past five games...ever since they clinched. They've had some great moments, but not many. They could come out firing on all cylinders, but it will be very, very difficult.
History is on their side, but I have serious doubts that they can pull it off. What do you think? Can they/will they play their very best in the upcoming series against Mississippi? Will Craig raise his second Cup?
Or is the off-season only a few games away...