Those of you who were in attendance last night may have witnessed a preview of the SPHL's title series featuring the Augusta RiverHawks and the Columbus Cottonmouths. Not counting out Knoxville or any other team, of course, but in my humble opinion these two teams are the cream of this season's crop.
Before the Snakes start clearing a spot in the trophy case, there are a whole lot of obstacles to overcome between now and the middle of April. But I have to say, and you...my faithful readers...will support this: I have said since the first day of training camp that this team is different. There is something special about it. Actually, a lot of somethings...
Starting with the goalies. Last night Andrew Loewen turned in a superb performance, his second straight win over the league leaders. Two fluky goals, one with an assist to Bret Tyler's skate and other to a linesman's..UGH. That's it. Skip ahead if you're tired of hearing about rebounds...:) Best of all, Andrew and his d-men gave the Hawks no second chances. That crease was kept cleared all night. Once, in the second period, when the play was whistled dead, I looked up and saw Tom Maldonado standing BEHIND Andrew. Andrew tried to take a step back...oh, thanks, Tom. Gave new meaning to "having my back" haha
Tiny example of doing anything and everything needed to win. There are things like this that happen every night. Different heroes each night, different plays, but one basic core strength: this team does not panic. In the past, giving up a two-goal lead on two silly goals like that would've made all of us cringe. Not last night. It was simply...back to work!
I know ya'all think I'm all about Orrin Hergott, but I have to tell you. I know how much Orrin has given to this team. I know how many injuries he's suffered through and how frustrated he was with his point production in recent years. Now he's playing this game with the joy and exhuberance of a kid and it's such fun to watch!
Nor surprisingly, Orrin orchestrated the game winner last night and, oh happy day, it went to Brett Hammond. Brett, by anybody's standards, including his, has not put up the numbers he wanted to this season. He played hurt for a while, as so many of the guys do. But Brett's value isn't necessarily reflected on the scoresheet. He is a leader on this team and outstanding on the penalty kill. So happy for Brett to get the game winner. Uh...not as happy as Brett was. He was beaming. :)
I'd put the Snakes D at the top of the list in the SPHL. Not only do I think they're excellent but I love the pairings now. Memo to Jerome: leave them ALONE!! haha. Men...why do they have to tinker with things? :). One offensive guy and one bruiser in each pair. YAY.
The offense has been affected by injuries and, of course, Levi Lind's long absence. It will also undergo at least one more change. Not a math wizard, but 19 is not 18. When Sam Bowles is healthy, there are too many Snakes. What changes will be made and how will they affect the team and its chemistry?
I don't see how the Orrin-Greg Beller-Derek Pallardy line can be touched. Those three are magical together. When I think that Derek was the 10th forward earlier this season, it's hard to believe. Of course, he was never the stereotypical 10th forward. He got lots of ice time, but his value with Orrin and Greg is immeasurable.
I like the Jordan Braid-John Sullivan combo. They were starting to click with Brett and now they're with Levi. Last night Brett skated with Mitch Wall and Pete MacDougall.
A couple of notes from last night...
The only real concern I have is the failure of the PP in the second period. FIVE chances, no goals. Overall only 1 of 10 with a man (or two) advantage. Of course, that goal was the game winner. :)
Lots of penalties last night including a couple for yapping at the ref, Jason Schulz. Kevin Kessler and Lucas LaBelle got 10s for abuse of officials. Hey, Jason...I'd have gotten a couple of 10s myself. Bud, you missed a few though calling lots and lots of penalties!! Seriously, wearing the orange stripes is a thankless job which I could never do. I only mention referees when they seriously affect the outcome of a game or I'm afraid somebody will get hurt. I know Jason personally, so thought I'd give him a hard time here.
My pal Scott Brand, supervisor of officials, was in attendance. As always, I was so rushed I didn't get to talk to Scott. Would love his take on the game. If I called him, Scott would be very honest about the highlights and lowlights of Jason's performance. Nice to have that good communication and I always learn a lot from it. Thanks, Scott!
Wanted to talk to Andrew last night, but our signals must have gotten crossed. I waited as long as I could. My timekeeper friend, Paul Ezell, was getting a little nervous, so I didn't dare wait any longer for Andrew. The game was over at 10:05 and I like to be in my seat writing at 10. UGH.
All in all, a great night. Rematch coming in 9 hours...but who's counting? :)