The answer to almost any question you ask me this morning, Snakes fans, will be "I don't know..."
What's happening to the Snakes? Is it leadership? Is it coaching? Is it team chemistry? Is their spirit crushed by all the injuries? Do they care? Can they right the ship? Will they win a second straight Cup? Will they even make the playoffs?
Let's start at the end. Hey...anybody can start at the beginning, right? :)
Yes, the Snakes will make the playoffs. Thanks to the unorthodox playoff format, 8 of the 9 teams go. Right now, it looks like arch-rival Augusta will be the odd men out. The RiverHawks are 7 points behind Huntsville. Huntsville has 10 games to play and Augusta 11. Not mathematically impossible but unlikely, barring a total Huntsville collapse.
The Snakes, to put it simply, are in a free fall. They limped home early this morning after a disastrous 0-3 western swing. They lost to Louisiana twice and the Surge once. Granted, LA is in first place, but their top goalie, Riley Gill, left for green pastures (ECHL) right before the series. The Snakes were beaten by one goalie making his second start and one making his first.
The Cottonmouths scored first in all three games this weekend. That's just one of the disturbing trends I've noticed lately. The team is 1-5-1 at a time of the year when they should be 5-1-1 if they're trying to build momentum for the playoffs. During this 7-game stretch, they've scored first in the 3 losses this weekend, the OTL against Augusta and the 3-1 road win over Huntsville. They were shut out twice in this stretch. To summarize: when they scored at all, they scored first. Yet, they pulled only 1 win and 1 other point out of those 7 games.
The Snakes have scored 11 goals in 7 games, 4 of which came during Friday's loss in LA. During this stretch, the team's top 3 scorers...Matt Gingera, Jordan Braid and Sam Bowles have a total of 12 points.
I know the injuries have been way too plentiful and poorly timed. Orrin Hergott's loss and its effect on the team is immeasurable, and now it's official. Orrin won't lace up the skates again, he announced today. That said, Orrin continued to be a presence on this team, attending every game and most practices.
John Sullivan and Bret Tyler's losses have affected the team adversely. Before he got hurt, John played on a line with Matt and Jordan and they were really clicking. Bret is a stabilizing presence on the blue line with Tom Maldonado, especially on the power play.
Crossing my fingers that both will be back next weekend. Will be at practice on Tuesday and get an update then.
The Snakes, once again, played shorthanded last night. On the road, they added a new d-man named Chad Bazin, who played in LA but not last night. Against the Surge, they were 2 men short and played with 4 d-men plus Derek Pallardy, the new emergency d-man.
Look back at the last year for Derek. This time a year ago, he was on the most prolific, exciting scoring line on the team. Derek, Orrin and Greg Beller electrified the crowd every time they stepped on the ice. Now...
Derek is on D, Greg in med school and Orrin in street clothes. Wow. Sad.
This year, for the first time, Jerome let the guys vote for their captain after Will Barlow retired. Orrin and Sammy were chosen by their peers. Did this affect the leadership of the team in any way by having not one, but two players wear the C? Did it affect the guys when Orrin was only on the ice for 11 games? He's still a respected leader of the team, but he wasn't in the trenches. Did that matter?
Jerome has been different this year in a way I can't put my finger on. The debate has raged for several years on whether he should continue to wear both hats or has he stretched himself too thin. Being both GM and coach is a huge undertaking and very time consuming.
Last year, Brad Prefontaine came on board and was a big part of the Snakes championship run, but this year Brad has spent a lot of time and energy working with youth hockey. He's even missed Snakes games to travel with the kids. Has Brad's absence and Jerome's resumption of total responsibility for every single decision affected them?
Why has the team played shorthanded so much with only Ft Benning providing reinforcements? Don't get me wrong, Ken Porter and Biff McNally were welcome additions, who certainly provided me great stories to write :), but aren't there able players out there who could've come in full-time?
I refuse to believe that the guys simply don't care and are just playing out the remaining games so they can play golf, join the real world or go back home. Their competitive spirit and professional pride would not allow them to do that. But, I have to admit, there are very few nights where I feel like all of them left everything out on the ice. Very few.
Is there a system of accountability? Does Jerome, Orrin or Sam call players out for less than 100% effort? There have been a zillion turnovers this year...is anything said to the guys who cough up the puck 6 times a game? Before ya'all jump on me, there is not a single player who does not give up the puck, make a bad decision or bad pass. He doesn't exist. But if I'm seeing players make the same mistakes over and over, doesn't Jerome? Can't those mistakes be corrected?
I find it pretty ironic that the last 2 Sunday features I've written have been bad Snakes news. The financial state of the club last Sunday, then Orrin's retirement today were very difficult for me to write. The trifecta of bad news stories is how badly the team is playing. If the old saying that bad things come in threes is true, then it's only good news from now on.
It's not too late for the guys to make a major run. Eight games left, 4 at home and 4 on the road. But before anybody can think of raising another Cup, the above questions and more need answers.
To state the obvious, the Snakes will not go deep into the playoffs the way they've played lately. It just won't happen. Hopefully the turnaround begins at home on Friday night.