Good morning, Snakes fans! Still basking in the embarrassment of riches for the beat writer last night. Normally, any of these would be the basis of a fun story to write: a hat trick, a shutout, two PPGs. The Snakes gave me all three last night. Thanks, guys!
Before the game, in our pregame conference, assistant coach John Bierchen heard a simple request from Miss Flit, Joe and me....
Could the Snakes PLEASE score first? Before last night, the Cottonmouths had lit the lamp first in only 18 of 41 games...with a 10-6-2 record! We talked about the psychological lift it gives a team, gets the crowd into it early and sets a positive early tone. As you could see, our goals were modest.
This is a crucial week for this team and its playoff hopes. Of course, as Mike Vee and I talked about pregame, there's over a month left in the season, not a week. But this week featured a unique opportunity to beat one of the teams you're trying to distance yourself from in the standings.
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Let's face it. Fayetteville is a team in disarray. A coaching change, offensive struggles, reluctance to play a physical game, terrible inconsistency. IF, and sometimes that's a big 'if', the Cottonmouths are really as talented as I've said since camp, this is, quite honestly, a team they should beat. The 3-2 loss in Fayetteville on Tuesday was one of the more discouraging ones of the season. The Snakes looked lethargic with so much on the line.
This time of year, you need big-time motivation as injuries mount up. You don't see players in street clothes until their performance is so compromised that they have to sit down. Some injuries (sorry, Chris Bailer) don't need meds or surgery, just time.
Others are the result of wear and tear on the guys' bodies over the last four months. This year's travel schedule has been brutal. Believe me, the post-game parade to the training room is getting longer and longer.
Last night's performance was as close to a 60-minute one as the guys have had all season long. Matt Gingera was very honest when asked how many 60-minute efforts the guys had turned in: not many. Agreed. As I said in this space earlier, it's time for the top scoring line to BE the top scoring line. It's loaded with talent but has misfired way too often this year.
When Sam Bowles came back and was placed on a line with Jordan Draper and Matt, I thought...wow. This line will explode. It has...at times. But often the rookie line: Tory Allan, Neilsson Arcibal and Preston Shupe has taken the offensive spotlight. The checking line has sometimes outshone the top guns. Dan Bremner (great pickup, Jerome), Levi Lind, Will Aide and Alex Gallant have done a superb job in contributing offensively while still maintaining the physical presence, which is what they do best.
Last night, Matt was absolutely on fire. He came, he saw, he conquered. Took the game by the throat and seized control, which is what I've been hoping to see. Sammy and Jordan played a major role in Matt's hat trick. Crisp and timely passing by both guys.
The offensive key to a successful team is to get all three of these lines firing at once. Every team has a top scoring line. For many teams in the SPHL, that's where the majority of their offense lies. Right now, the Snakes have two potent lines, with the potential always there for the checking line to come through.
There could be one more major change in store for the Snakes very soon. Jerome has been in contact with Steve Mele. Steve left Columbus on Dec. 30 for South Carolina. He played 8 games for the Stingrays, who then waived him. He headed to Utah on Jan. 17 where, I'm sorry to report, he's played only three games. Jerome told Steve he needs an answer NOW...like, today... as to whether or not he's interested in coming back here.
I know what you're asking yourselves: where will JB put Steve and who would go? I'm afraid that Chris may be placed on the 30-day IR and could be done for the season. His injury is so tricky and time is his only ally, time he and the team don't have. If Chris were to be placed on IR, Levi could move to the blue line, where he performed admirably last night and where he's filled in before.
The giant question is which team do you break up? Jerome, an infamous tinkerer of lines, has kept the top two scoring lines intact for a while. Thinking of the championship year when Sam was the best third line center in the SPHL (or possibly anywhere else!), do you put Steve on a line with Dan and Will? Alex, of course, will still be available to settle any scores, but that happens less and less with the regular season winding down and the playoffs looming.
All of this, you understand, is speculation on my part. Except for the Mele decision due today. That part JB actually told me...haha. The rest is my thinking out loud in my role as assistant coach and director of player personnel. Oh, wait...I'm neither of those! OK, then it's got to be placed in the "wonder what would happen if" category.
Continuing the alumni report, Travis Bosch is now riding the bench in Denver (CHL). He played only four games while their goalie was called up. But, Travis is benefiting tremendously from coaching by the Colorado Avalanche goalie coach, so while I'm sure he wants to play, this is a great opportunity for a rookie goalie. I've chatted with Travis briefly since he's been gone and it sounds like he's enjoying the experience.
Daniel Amesbury has played in 29 games for Denver and has fought in 10 of them. Interesting fact is that 5 of the 10 games in which Daniel fought came vs Rapid City. No other details on his situation as Daniel and I have not kept in touch.
Back to last night's game. As Andrew Loewen said, the Snakes did a lot of little things right. Of course, it's in Andrew's best interest when the D does the little things because it helps him tremendously in his number 1 job requirement: to keep the puck out of the net! With 5 D since Chris aggravated his injury, the guys have adjusted very well and enjoyed the extra ice time. But if Levi moves back there for the rest of the season, with either Steve or Alex playing up front, I think this would be good for the D pairs.
With 5 D, Tom Maldonado and Mike Switzer start out together as do Kyle Johnson and Jason Gray. Since Chris is Andy Willigar's partner, Andy is paired with whoever's available, rested and ready. If Levi were to become Andy's D partner for the rest of the season, the two could practice together and work on their timing and communication.
If the goalie pitches a shutout, the D did its job. Last night, the D helped Andrew out on many occasions and definitely share the glory of the shutout.
The power play is going to be a big key down the stretch and in the playoffs. Two-of-three is a great night. Along with a perfect PK, special teams did their jobs.
So....the big question is: which Snakes team will show up tonight in Fayetteville after the grueling bus ride? The Antz will endure the same ride, though they left after the game and the Snakes early this morning. The bigger question is how much the Snakes will have left in the tank on Sunday afternoon after arriving home from Fayetteville in the morning and having to play a Sunday game at 4??? Have I mentioned the brutal travel schedule?