Let me take this opportunity to thank Jerome and Tom for providing me such a great story tonight. :)
I've seen Jerome grinning many, many times coming off the ice, but tonight he was laughing out loud. I would find out why in a few minutes.
My timekeeper, Paul Ezell, was already looking at his watch, so I knew I was in deep trouble time-wise. When I asked him how bad it was, his reply was: "you don't want to know". This is never good.
I always have to wait for the stars of the game, which usually doesn't bother me, but with Paul's warning, I know I'm going to have to use every second. So I asked Jerome if the shootout lineup is standard. He said that it comes off the top of his head. Bingo...not only do I have a d-man scoring the winning goal, but the element of luck...uh, I mean a gut instinct plays into it.
Never miss a local story.
To conserve even more time, I talk to Ian while Steve Thiele is announcing the stars of the game: Tom, Jordan and Matt.
To say Ian was relieved is an understatement. Before the game, Jerome told me he was putting Ian back in net in the "getting right back on that horse" vein. I thought Ian looked confident in net, which is what you want with the playoffs looming.
Credit for the first goal went to Matt, but it doesn't happen without Levi. This goal was a patented Sammy-Jesse goal, with one of the guys working free at the side of the net and the other feeding it to him at precisely the right moment. Matt was not quite in position, so Levi delayed his pass just a second or two, allowing Matt to get open and bury it for a 1-0 lead.
Matt's goal ended a scoring drought of 77:19 going back to the third period of the Huntsville game. Pete scored a PPG at the 16:50 mark, followed by 60:00 of scoreless hockey vs LA, added to 14:09 tonight. Yikes.
The tying goal came on almost the identical play. Former Cottonmouth Brent Clarke was waiting at the corner for the pass from Bartholomy. 1-1. Only 1:30 later, a crucial turnover right in front of Ian gave Versteeg-Lytwyn an easy unassisted goal. 2-1 and the building falls silent. You could have heard a pin drop, though there's still plenty of time left.
Key sequence for Ian came with a 2-2 tie, late in the game. He stuffed Jeff Grant on a breakaway, but referee Brent Coulombe awarded Grant a penalty shot and Ian stuffed that too.
Kudos to the PK for killing off two five-on-threes, one for 1:46 and the other for 46 seconds. Doing so against the league's top PP unit makes it even sweeter.
Solid effort for the Snakes. Their hopes for third place are still alive, but pretty slim. They have to go to Augusta and win on Friday and beat LA at the Pit on Saturday, PLUS Huntsville has to drop all three of its remaining games: at Pensacola on Thurs, at home vs Pensacola on Friday and at home against Knoxville on Saturday. Stranger things have happened, but regardless, Huntsville holds the key either way because they play Pensy twice.
As of tonight, Huntsville (56), Columbus (54) and Pensacola (52) are bunched in the middle. Mississippi is four ahead of Augusta. Congrats to Knoxville for clinching tonight. Fayetteville was eliminated, probably ending the Tommy Stewart era there.
If the season ended today: Mississippi vs Knoxville in a best of 5; Augusta vs Pensacola in a best of 3; Snakes vs Huntsville in a best of 3 with home ice going to the Havoc. That's a favorable matchup for the Snakes as the Huntsville offense has struggled just as much as the Cottonmouths' has. Both have strong goaltending and sturdy D.
Can't even guess what will happen next weekend. The Snakes are 0-for-Augusta this season. Reminds you of Knoxville the first year, doesn't it? Columbus has won twice at the Snake Pit vs the RiverHawks, once by each goalie.
The Snakes are on a three-game losing streak vs LA. Finishing the regular season with a bang and a decisive victory would provide momentum for the upcoming playoffs. Are you listening, guys?