Good morning, Snakes fans!
I know I've used the roller coaster analogy a LOT this season. Win a couple, lose a couple, play well a couple...or not. Last night's game was a great illustration of the ups and downs this team has faced.
The good news is that the Cottonmouths peaked when they needed to...and took away an important two points.
The first period was as strong a period as we've seen all year at the Snake Pit. It was very similar to the whole game effort and production in Huntsville last weekend. End result: a 2-0 lead, which included a PPG. The Neilsson Arcibal-Preston Shupe-Tory Allan line started its huge night by scoring the first goal.
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In a goal that was eerie in its similarity to one of Preston's THREE goals, Neilsson took a pass from Preston, skated the puck into the Huntsville zone and...BOOM. Goal. 1-0 lead. Great control of the puck. Quick release so the goalie didn't have time to get set. An indicator of good things to come?
A perfect PP sequence resulted in Jason's Gray's PPG. Jason is having a terrific year, though very quietly. He's a soft-spoken kid, not flashy on or off the ice, but is definitely getting the job done. He and Andy Willigar can no longer be considered rookies as they're definitely playing with the big boys. Look for a story on them soon.
On the power play, the guys are looking for a certain shot. It's a designed play. They don't go out there and pass the puck around, to the groans of the fans and shouts of "SHOOT IT!!!". With 5 guys to their opponent's 4, there's going to be space somewhere. There's going to be a window. There's going to be an opportunity. As Benjamin Franklin said, patience is a virtue.
Tom Maldonado made the perfect pass and Jason buried it. 2-0. 1 for 1 on the PP. Life is good.
Second period--time to call in the detectives. Somebody kidnapped the first-period Snakes and replaced them with lookalikes who let up, made soft plays, lost focus...these are players' descriptions, not mine.
A big, fat ugly 4 goes up on the Havoc's side. Preston scored the second of his three goals admidst the Huntsville fireworks and the period mercifully ends with the Snakes on the short end of a 4-3 score.
If you've watched any hockey at all, much less Snakes hockey, you know that a one-goal lead is nothing. You don't dare go out and get a pretzel. You might miss 3 goals...haha.
The real question in my mind, at second intermission, was which Snakes team would report for duty in the third. If it's the first-period team, no problem. If it's the second, could get ugly.
The third period showed me they were ready to play and badly wanted this two points. The Snakes went on a PP early...at the 7:31 mark, but didn't score. In the good news/bad news category, they got 5 SOG during the PP...a significant number.
In the last half of the period, the Snakes took over and grabbed the W and two points. Preston did his his best Neilsson impression: took the pass from Neilsson and instantly buried it. Tie game.
The energy level in the building rose 1000%. Everybody could feel it. There was still plenty of time left, but the next goal was key. Preston's goal came at the 11:19 mark. An eternity left in the game.
On the Cottonmouths' 45th SOG of the game, Sam Bowles scored the latest in what seems to be an endless stream of key goals. Again, it was a question of timing. Sam slid into position only a couple of feet in front of goalie Kevin Genoe At the same second, Jordan Draper put the puck on his stick. BOOM. The building exploded...5-4 lead. But there was so much time left.
The Snakes D, playing a man short, protected Andrew Loewen, took care of its own end and played controlled, but smart and aggressive hockey.
Just when Miss Flit, Joe and I were waiting for the Havoc to pull Genoe, Preston completed the hat trick with 1:02 left.
It's a matter of a coach's personal preference when to pull a goalie. In the NHL they often pull him earlier. In our league, it's usually in the last 1:30 of the game, though I've seen it done earlier a few times.
Credit the Snakes for making the call harder for Glenn Detulleo. They did an excellent job in the last 4-5 minutes of the game keeping the puck in the Huntsville zone. All of the action was on Rank's doorstep. No way he could get to the bench.
Preston's goal pretty much sealed the win, but the Havoc still went for the extra attacker with 51 seconds left, to no avail.
A couple of personnel notes: Seth Ronsberg is walking on two good legs. Bless his heart...Seth played only two games before being injured and placed on the 30-day IR. He's been rehabbing here and now awaits Dr. Fred Flandry's timetable for his return. What a long and not-much-fun season for Seth.
Chris Bailer missed his second game in a row for what was originally thought to be a pretty minor, though painful, injury. Chris suffered the same injury late last year and Jerome figured it just needed a couple weeks rest. Unfortunately, it might need more than that. I asked Chris how he was doing and his response must be taken with a grain of salt...or several. He said "better", which is a standard response and possibly not exactly true. :) He looked kind of miserable, which means he could be on the shelf a while longer.
Speaking of miserable, I'm afraid Steve Mele could be joining that category pretty soon, if he hasn't already. He's played very little for Utah (ECHL) and was a healthy scratch the past couple of nights. Don't want to get started on another rant about life in the almost-big time. I always tell guys: talk to Sammy. Talk to Levi Lind. Find out if the grass (or ice) is greener up there. Then I give them the KG advice of the day: if you want to PLAY, stay here. If you want a line on your hockey resume that says ECHL...go for it!
Jerome is going to touch base with Steve and, I assume, the Utah coach, to see what's going on.
Now comes the really tricky part. The roster. Don't get me wrong. I want Steve back here as I think he'd be an asset to any team. But this team has found its rhythm and identity. Who do you cut and at what risk? Every single player has a role. The team chemistry is excellent. The band of brothers stuff that they always say seems to be true. The talent is there to win a championship. Do you mess with that this late into the season? If Jerome honestly thinks that Steve...or somebody else...would make this team better, he'll cut somebody. At this point, he very much likes the team he has.
Tonight another key game in Southaven vs the Mississippi RiverKings. Every game is key right now. With the standings as tight as they are, you don't want to leave two points on the table. Two points could be the difference between third and sixth place...lol. You don't want the guys to look back at an early February game and say...UGH we should have won this one or that one...and look where we'd be.
I predict an exciting end to this season, Snakes fans!