Andrew Loewen had a solid game in net for the Snakes, making a combination of routine and spectacular saves. But it was all of the Snakes who saved the weekend with an impressive 5-2 road win in Huntsville.
This game had so many dramatics that it's hard to know where to begin. Guess I'll start with a simple question: when are the home fans, not to mention the beat writer, going to get to join the fun?! :) More on that later.
More bus problems...which Jerome may actually request from now on. Thursday night's long journey to LA featured two different bus issues that stretched the trip into about 19 hours. Result: a season-high 8 goals and W over the first-place team...in THEIR barn.
Yesterday's rare Saturday matinee had the guys schedule to leave pretty early in the morning. They got to Huntsville 45 minutes before game time. Dress, warm up, play.
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As I've learned through the years, this kind of trip can work in one of two ways. Players are superstitious, borderline religious, about their pre-game rituals. They don't like to have them interrupted or changed in any way. Well, those go out the window when you arrive that late.
On the other hand, I've been told that the guys don't like to arrive too early as all that sitting around isn't good.
The Snakes burst out of the starting gate quickly, so I knew that it didn't have an adverse affect on them. They looked like they had a lot of jump in their step and far more intensity that we witnessed on Friday night at the Pit.
Bizarre sequence of plays early. Dan Bremner and Huntsville goalie Jesse Kallechy went behind the net and Kallechy fell. Dan didn't run him. No penalty called. Kallechy just fell flat on his back. Weird. It looked like he hit his head and I was worried about concussion. The back of a goalie's head is vulnerable and I remember Chad Rycroft hitting his head on the ice, briefly blacking out, coming to and remaining in the game. Don't want to see anybody hurt. But Kallechy appeared to be fine and stayed in the game.
Next strange play: Levi Lind is called for boarding, slapped with a five-minute major and a gamer. Huh? I didn't see the play, but both Mike Vee and the Huntsville announcer seemed astounded that Levi was given a major. He deserved a minor, but a major usually results when the guy is injured or the offending player tried to put him through the boards. Not good that only 3:47 into the game, the Snakes are shorthanded for five whole minutes.
Anxious moments for Snakes fans. Andrew made a save right after Mike Gurtler's interference penalty gave the Snakes a little relief from killing a major. Andrew appeared to be injured but remained in the game. Seconds later he was hit in the mask. Open season on Andrew? Fortunately, it was the last incident and Andrew went on to have a solid game.
The Snakes gave up one PPG. The camera guy missed it, so I did too. 1-0 Huntsville. SOG at this point in favor of Huntsville, 9-2.
The first period was about to get even stranger. Former Snake Corey Bellamy and Alex Gallant as the two were engaged in a fight-that-wasn't-a-fight. Bellamy got a double minor for roughing and Alex got a minor and both got 10s. The funny part about this not-fight was that the linesmen were, literally, in the middle of the two combatants. The guys were punching over and around the linesmen. Wait a minute, this first period gets even better.
A Huntsville player was flying toward the net with Matt Gingera desperately trying to get a good angle on him to stop what would be a pretty good shot. From my view, and I guess the ref's, Matt didn't haul him down, but the ref's arm went up. Vee assumed, as did I, that he was calling a penalty shot. Those things are so tricky and I'm wrong about 90% of the time, so I'm already worrying about a potential two-goal hole that the Snakes would have to climb out of.
Well, apparently Jerome also thought he called a penalty shot and he was, uh...displeased. He launches a water bottle onto the ice. Jerome is pretty quickly tossed, stops to get his 2 cents worth, picks up the puck and exits...sort of.
Now, officials in all sports are pretty good about this. Technically, if you're tossed, you're supposed to leave the field of play. Not literally sit in the bus, but get away from the action. The unwritten rule, though, is that an official will turn a blind eye unless you show him up. I've seen many a banished manager lurking beyond the right field wall at Golden Park. In the past, when JB has been tossed at the Pit, he'll sometimes go high up in the stands and sit. A good official isn't going to hunt for him. Just don't let me know you're there.
Here, JB made a couple of crucial mistakes. Somehow, his suit coat was gone. Not heaved on the ice as he's done in the past. No idea what happened to it, but he's wearing a white shirt which is like a beacon: "Hey...look at me!!". Also, he's standing ice level and hollering. Security is pretty close by, which is a good thing. All I am thinking at this point is holy Daryl Moor but things finally quiet down.
Andrew at this point is standing on his head, making one great save after another and I'm flashing back to Andrew-of-last-year. Goalie of the Year saves.
Here's where it gets a little murky...again. Will Aide and Dominic Osmon are in the box for coincidental minors earned at 11:53 before Matt's hooking at 13:07, which was when Jerome got his laundry list of charges.
Vee and the other guy (I'm so sorry I don't know his name...ugh) were mystified as to why Matt exits the penalty box, but Will and Osmon are still in there. The difference, I assume, is that the Snakes were shorthanded because of Matt's penalty so he can come out as soon as it expires. Will and Osmon, I assume, had to wait for a stoppage of play. But here's the strange thing. There wasn't one stoppage of play between 13:53 and 15:18. I know that doesn't sound like too long, but no icing, no puck out of play, no save, no nothing?
So Matt exits the box and scores a SHG in 11 seconds. Tie game. Gingera takes over the game offensively, which you faithful readers will remember I said he needed to do! Matt is an exciting offensive player. He generates opportunities and his enthusiasm is contagious. I saw none of that on Friday night and a ton of it on Saturday afternoon. Results: 0 goals on Friday and 3 goals and an assist on Saturday.
The rest of the first is pretty routine with the exception of Andrew's acrobatics. At the end of the period, Osmon is whistled for a double minor which carries over into the second period. Ray Ortiz will have 41 seconds left on a hooking penalty, so the Snakes will have a 41-second five-on-three.
As the second period starts, the question is if the Snakes will capitalize on this big chance and, to what extent? They have 41 seconds, plenty of time, with a two-man advantage. Since Osmon has a double minor, if they score in the first two minutes, the PP continues. They took full advantage.
Steve Mele, who has definitely made his presence known in his first 4 games as a Columbus Cottonmouth (8 points in 4 games), scored only 29 seconds in and Will added another PPG at 2:35.
At this points, the Snakes were being outshot 15-8, but owned the scoreboard 3-1.
Scary moment early in the second. Right after Huntsville trimmed the lead to one, 3-2, Dan got boarded by Josh Harris. Harris got a major and a gamer, and Dan sat out the rest of the second period, undoubtedly undergoing a concussion assessment. The good news is that he returned for the third period...whew.
So...a one-goal game entering the final period. This game could truly go either way at this point. The Snakes were playing well and Andrew was on his game, but could they hang on, or even better, could they get an insurance goal, or two?
Enter Matt, who gives his team a little cushion only 2:51 into the third. The two-goal lead remained until Matt's empty netter gave him the hat trick and his team the W.
Four points out of six is good on any three-in-three weekend. Perfect on the road is awesome. The concern at this point is why Knoxville has the Snakes' number and when are the home fans are going to get to join the fun?
This weekend showed the inconsistency that still plagues the team, but you've got to be encouraged with the signs of the offense awakening. 8. 0. 5 is not the model of consistency, but two Ws out of three games is excellent work.
Next weekend brings another three-in-three. On Friday night, the guys travel to Biloxi for their first game of the season against the Surge. Saturday, the Surge come to the Snake Pit. Sunday afternoon, the Louisiana IceGators try to avenge Thursday's loss.
Saturday's game marks the first of four straight home games. Can the Cottonmouths reclaim home ice advantage at the Snake Pit?