HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Columbus Cottonmouths and Huntsville Havoc squared off in Game 1 of their Southern Professional Hockey League semifinals in the intimate confines of the Huntsville Municipal Ice Complex.
The teams treated the 915 in attendance to basic, old-fashioned hockey.
Rookie Shayne Stockton scored early in the second period and the Snakes made it stand up, taking a 1-0 victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
Game 2 is at the Columbus Civic Center on Thursday night at 7:30. If necessary, game 3 will be back at the IcePlex on Sunday at 8.
While no other goals were scored, the game featured a lot of hitting, dramatic saves and few penalties. Snakes goaltender Andrew Loewen saved all 45 shots he faced, continuing his sparkling postseason play.
Loewen surrendered two goals in game 1 to Peoria, which the Snakes lost 2-0, then gave up a single goal in the next two games. His playoff goals-against average is now 1.01 and save percentage .970.
The Snakes captured the crucial first game in a short series.
“We didn’t do it the last time,” Loewen said of the Peoria series. “We know now every game could be our last. We can’t sit back now. If they come back and win the next one, they have the momentum.”
Loewen made the easy saves and those when he was sprawling on his belly.
“Those are the desperation saves,” Loewen said. “They’re my least favorite kind. But I have to make them and tonight I did.”
Stockton took a pass from veteran defenseman Tom Maldonado at the 4:35 mark of the second period to open the scoring, having no idea that it would be the lone goal of the evening.
“I thought it was a good start, but I definitely didn’t think it would be the only goal,” Stockton said. “Coming in here and playing a road game, we knew it would be a tough place to play. We needed to take the crowd out.”
The game was played in the IcePlex because the circus is playing in the Havoc’s usual home, the Von Braun Center. The tiny rink reminded many players of the rinks of their early days as youth or in juniors. The crowd was small but enthusiastic.
“It didn’t affect us,” Stockton said. “When we scored we took the crowd out of it.”
Maldonado scored his first point of the playoffs at an opportune time.
“We won the first game, which was huge,” Maldonado said. “Now we need to close it out. We have the ability to do that. We didn’t play our best tonight. We expected that they’d throw the kitchen sink at us.”
Maldonado and the defensemen stood tall in front of Loewen, steering many Havoc shots to the outside, giving Loewen a lot of clear looks at the puck.
“Andrew was ready to play,” Maldonado said. “He was waiting for this moment since (Ian) Vigier retired. Last year, unfortunately, he didn’t get it. It’s good to see him playing so well.”
Huntsville outshot the Snakes 45-25. It was the lowest shot total for the Cottonmouths in the playoffs. The previous low was 35 in the 2-0 loss to Peoria.
Columbus 0 1 0 --1
Huntsville 0 0 0 --0
First period—None. Penalties—None.
Second-1, Columbus, Stockton (Maldonado)4:35. Penalties—Gingera, Columbus (tripping) 15:13; Harff, Huntsville (holding) 17:43.
Third period—None. Penalties—Arcibal, Columbus (slashing) 14:18.
Shots on goal: Columbus 8 14 3 --25
Huntsville 17 18 10 --35
Power plays: Huntsville 0 of 2; Columbus 0 of 1
Goaltenders: Loewen (win) 60:00 45 45 0; Kallechy (loss) 58:33 25 24 1.
Referees: MacDougall, Martin. Linesmen: Rawn, Madsen.