What a wonderful night at the Snake Pit...from start to finish!!
This was a very tough night to get a W. All the excitement, all the pregame hoopla, go get the ring, put it aside and...PLAY. But the Snakes put together a solid effort to shut out Pensacola 4-0.
Did I say it was perfect? Of course not. I'm about to make a statement that you might think a little strange. May I remind you that I said after one day of camp last season that the team was special? :)
Ok, back to this year: I believe this team is even better than last year's. Hold on and let me explain. Last year's team had plenty of talent, from back to front, all the way around. No question. But this year's team, especially on the back end, has size and I believe could be even more physical than last year's.
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For example: 2 of the rookie d-men dropped the gloves tonight. It's good for teams to always wonder who's going to come after them. It's not just Daniel Amesbury, though he is definitely the team's enforcer. He's already fought Gabriel Boutin-Gagnon twice inside a week.
Kyle Johnson and Chris Bailer both fought tonight as did Derek Pallardy. Huh? It reminded me of the night Orrin Hergott fought...and Tom Maldonado. If the smaller guys on a team are going to stand up for themselves and each other, that sends a message to other teams.
This team had a great night, a shutout win. My prediction is that it'll only get better. The rookies on offense...Alex MacLeod and Jonathan Redlick...didn't contribute on the scoresheet, but made some nice plays. Can you imagine what's going to happen when all the forwards play together for a little while and those crisp passing sequences start clicking?
Then you have that Vigier guy. This team would be really great if he wasn't such a slacker...haha. Ian Vigier picked up right where he left off. He was riding a playoff sweep in which he notched 6 wins, including a shutout, and had a nice little 1.30 GAA. So what has he done for you lately? Posted a shutout on opening night.
I caught up with a few of the guys during the jersey auction and got their post-game thoughts. Starting with Ian....
"We made just a couple of mistakes, but pretty much picked up where we left off. The new guys stepped in right away."...Ian Vigier
After the Snakes scored only 1:20 into the third period to stretch the lead to 4-0, new head coach Gary Graham pulled goalie Steve Christie. I asked Ian if he was surprised.
"Yes and no. They needed a spark."
The game changed when the lead became 4 goals. From that moment on, with the win looking like a probability, the guys were determined to get Ian the shutout.
"He deserved it. He played an unbelievable game. We knew they'd keep coming. He didn't lose a step from last season."...Kevin Kessler
Kevin also spoke about his fellow defensemen, rookies Johnson, Bailer and Tom Fitzpatrick.
"We have some big boys on the back end. They are physical guys who are also solid defensively."
John Sullivan had a goal and an assist. John, Jordan Braid and Brett Hammond had multi-point games. Seven different Snakes scored, which is always a good thing.
"We were a little nervous at first, with everything going on. Sometimes you come out a little flat. The new guys jelled very well. They stood up for their teammates."...John Sullivan
Brett Hammond had a disappointing end to the regular season last year. He was waived to make room for Sam Bowles when Sammy came off the 30-day IR. The Snakes were unable to get Brett on the playoff roster. Brett conducted himself with dignity and class and remained supportive of his teammates throughout the championship run.
It was so great to see Brett off to such a good start. He had a goal and an assist in game 1.
"Everyone was really prepared. We were a little sloppy because we were excited at the start. But everyone was professional and got the job done. The new guys fit in perfectly. There will be some growing pains as they're learning."...Brett Hammond
Jerome told me, and I'm paraphrasing here, that he was ready to get all this "stuff" over with and play hockey. He knows what a distraction all of the pregame festivities were. He also knows that the last time the Snakes raised a banner...Opening Night, 2005, his team lost to Huntsville 3-2.
"What got me was how focused they were through all the hoopla. They got their rings and said, 'thanks...now let's go play.' We tried to keep things simple. There are a couple of things we've got to fix. Ian saw the puck all night and reacted well to it. He started just where he left off."
It's always wonderful to see the players' families in town, especially on such a joyous occasion as this. Debbie and John Sullivan, Sr were in attendance. My pals Dave Kessler and Danny were here tonight... two faithful Snakes fans and regular readers. :) But this time, Kevin's mom Kathy was also in the house!! Peggy and Jon were here to cheer on Tom and I heard that Derek's folks were here, but didn't see them.
Mitch Wall returned with hair down to his shoulders. Will Barlow was back with hair NOT down to his shoulders. Both Mitch and Will received warm receptions when they were introduced and skated the Cup around. Certainly Andrew Krelove, Dave Cianfrini, Pete MacDougall and Greg Beller were missed!!
It was neat the way the soldiers rappelled down with the banner and first puck. Seeing that banner rise is always such an amazing moment. As it slowly ascends, all of the memories of a magical season come flooding back. All the hard work, all the injuries, all the superb performances.
That's it for 2011-2012. The players have their rings. The banner is up there. The Cup lives here now. But all that matters is that the Snakes are 1-0 THIS season.