Military Appreciation Night is, hands down, my favorite night of the season at the Snake Pit! Sure, I love the wiener dogs, Zooperstars and lots of other events. But seeing the stands filled with soldiers and hearing the Pit rock with their chants and cheers...well, there's nothing like it.
The one downside, and it's certainly a small price to pay, is that the concourse is packed with soldiers and getting to the concession stands can be a challenge. Fortunately, I remembered that it was far more efficient for me to take the route behind the suites to retrieve Reese's chicken basket. In case you're wondering if he could possibly skip the chicken basket on this special night, the answer is NO. For my autistic young man, it's as much a part of the evening as the game...lol.
Normally my husband is in charge of chicken and he gets their food and drinks with no problem when he arrives at the rink close to 7. On special nights, I get Reese's meal asap. This was one of those nights. So I head behind the suites for the chicken basket window and run into a mile-long line of camo. Yikes.
I see quickly that there's a shorter line for the ATM but, yep, the long line is for burgers, chicken baskets etc. So I take my place in line, hoping for one of two outcomes. One, I'm done before game time...haha Two, somebody offers me the chance to move to the head of the line. This has always happened in the past.
I waited for maybe a minute when a drill sergeant comes and gets me and escorts me to the front where young, smiling soldiers step aside for me and my urgent chicken basket needs. I blessed all of their hearts, smiled and returned to Reese. Whew. Now time to enjoy the pregame festivities.
This is the only time I get to be a fan and clap and cheer for Ft Benning. No offense, Ft Bragg, but these are our hometown heroes. Happy to report that Ft Benning hung on for a 3-2 win despite a last-second goal by Ft Bragg.
Right before game time, assistant coach and EBUG John Bierchen came by to speak to Miss Flit, Joe and me. John was excited about his first military night, but I warned him. The absolutely best thing you can do is hit and score...NOW ...to involve the soldiers in the game. Worst case: a packed house and a dull, low-scoring effort by the home team. I offered to convey that message to the guys, but trusted John to do so. :)
Knowing from the moment I woke up that I would have trouble making deadline (20 minutes to write...not good) I went down to speak to Ian Vigier after warmups. Ian was beaming. No chance he'd play as he too was an EBUG but, the look on Ian's face to be back in the Pit among the guys was priceless.
So great to see my pals Dave Kessler and Danny Spencer, who come to town now only when Fayetteville does. :( So sad that the cutest little Kessler didn't make it. Baby Kipp is in California with his mom, so I didn't get a glimpse of him...or his dad Kevin. I told Dave that there was no way I'd make deadline if I went down to get quotes. Last time, I did get to speak to and get a big hug from Kevin. Not on military night. So after a nice chat with Dave, I asked him to give Kevin my best. Sure miss seeing Dave and Danny on a nightly basis...sigh.
After a thrilling 1-0 shutout the previous night, it was a little disconcerting to give up a quick early goal to the Antz, but the Snakes were down 1-0 just 1:44 into the game. Remembering my words to John, I'm thinking...answer quickly, answer quickly. They did. It took only four minutes for Jason Gray to tie it and the Snakes to take off.
Such fun watching the soldiers eat, chant, eat, sing, eat, cheer, eat and dance. They loved every goal, every hit, every song...and every fight. The Snakes provided first class entertainment in the latter department.
Every stoppage of play brought a little shoving, which the soldiers cheered. They were itching for a fight and finally got one...actually, a few. Will Aide squared off with Derek Elliott and handled him easily. Alex Gallant mixed it up with Tim Recio and Andy Willigar dropped the gloves with Brandon Greenside. Sticks and gloves littered the ice and the three pairs went at it.
Suddenly a water bottle and stick came off the bench. Unbelievably, Fayetteville coach Greg McCauley heaved both and it seems everybody in the arena saw it but referee Ken Anderson. Everybody was standing up by then and I didn't actually see the objects leave his hand, but knew from the angle that they came it had to come from the bench. While Anderson was sorting out all the penalties, I went over and asked my pals in section 102A if they knew who threw it. They unanimously said the coach, which I later confirmed with Jerome and Brad.
No penalty...yet...for McCauley's antics. You can bet that Jerome will send the clip in. Expect a nice fine and suspension for McCauley. I've seen Jerome heave everything from water bottles to his tie and suit jacket. He got the fine and suspension...and a gamer. McCauley should consider himself lucky, I guess.
McCauley had been agitated all night, not surprisingly. Fayetteville is reeling right now, having suffered back-to-back shutouts to Knoxville and the Snakes. The Antz have had a lot of personnel changes lately and their fans are getting restless. McCauley and Brad Prefontaine were hollering at each other from bench to bench. Things got more interesting later.
At this point, the Antz had two players hit with gamers: Corey Tamblyn for checking from behind in the first period and Brandon Richardson for verbal abuse of officials during the big brouhaha midway through the second period. It wasn't the end of Richardson's night, however.
Since I was racing the clock after the game ended so late, I didn't get to witness (translation: be right in the middle of) the post-game fireworks. Apparently as the teams headed to their lockerrooms, Brad headed down the hallway, too far to suit McCauley. The two were chirping and their respective troops came out of the lockerroom to offer their support (a polite way to say 'see what's going on').
My friend Paul Ezell was in control, so nobody had to worry. The man may be mild-mannered, smiling, have silver hair and be a "veteran" police officer, but make no mistake. He is in charge and don't forget it. I was in the middle of one of those hallway scrums between the Snakes and Huntsville once. It was my first time seeing Paul defuse a hostile situation. He's excellent at it. Plus the man is armed and in full uniform. Usually seeing the uniform makes folks take a step back.
Not Richardson. He swore at Paul, who calmly responded by slapping the handcuffs on him. Yikes! At first I thought: what a sight...a hockey player in full gear, skates included, wearing handcuffs. But it wasn't quite that dramatic. Since Richardson got the hook earlier, I assume he was in street clothes. Paul only cuffed him to calm him down, which apparently worked.
Back to the game. A solid 5-2 win and another good performance by Andrew Loewen. Andrew has apparently grabbed the #1 goalie mantle and run with it. Andrew has won 4 of his last 5 and his GAA has dropped and save percentage improved. Keep up the good work, Andrew!
Five goals by 4 different scorers is always good. Balanced scoring wins games. An opponent can key on one line, but you have a much better chance of winning if all three lines contribute. All three lines chipped in. The Bowles-Gingera-Aide line chipped in three points, Arcibal-Shupe-Allan line had two and Draper-Lind-Bremner-Gallant had three. Gray also had a goal. In all, 8 different players scored. Balanced.
The PK was nearly perfect, killing off 7 of 8, but the PP failed in all 4 of its chances. A PPG would've been nice and a perfect PK too, but a balanced, solid W was the result, so who can quibble about special teams?
Huge test coming up tomorrow night. The Snakes and Antz tangle for the third time in four days. Back to Fayetteville for the finale. It's bound to be chippy. The Antz could be without their coach and will be desperate for a W. The Snakes are playing well and could use another W to continue their climb up the SPHL ladder.
Should be interesting.