As the saying goes...The Snakes are headed to the 'ship!! Raise your hand if you anticipated this scenario a month ago. Yea...neither did I. :)
As captain Kyle Johnson said last night, with a grin so wide he could hardly talk...we're getting it together at the right time. DUH. You could sure say that, Kyle!! lol
Speaking of Kyle, hope ya'all saw Robin Trimarchi's photo from last night's game. If you haven't checked out Robin's gallery, please do so. The one I love best is of Kyle's back...haha. Look at Preston Shupe and Neilsson Arcibal's faces as that says it all. You'll see pure joy for their teammate and captain. Kyle "the sniper" Johnson had just put the puck in the net and tied the game. This team's chemistry and unity can't be overstated. The respect they have for Kyle and the happiness for him are reflected in Preston and Neilsson's faces. Take a look.
Expect those slackers Matt Gingera and Jordan Draper to be benched today and Kyle and his fellow sniper Mike Switzer moved to forward...:) Funny when I asked both of the guys if the above scenario would happen, Kyle said...yes, the truth is out...I'm a goal scorer now. Mike said...NO let's leave the scoring to them. Mike was awarded Warrior of the Game for his key goal. A proud moment for Kyle and Mike, but I'm pretty sure Jordan and Matt will keep their jobs...haha.
Let's take a step back to game 1 at the IcePlex. Lindsey and I had a great trip, excellent pre-game meal at our favorite restaurant in Huntsville that my nephew Phil and I discovered in 2012. We got to the rink and parked exactly where our pal Ashley Balch said to and found our way to the special Cottonmouths VIP section they'd set aside for us. Awwww. It was awesome!
Lindsey and I, along with Andrew Loewen's family, Anne, Russell and sister Sarah, Chris Bailer's dad and sis, our friend Janet Davis and several players' girlfriends had a nice little private area roped off right next to the bench. Talk about up close and personal! We could see (and hear!) everything. The goal way to our far right was hard to see, but the one to our left, which turned out to be the one that mattered, was clearly visible. We could have easily helped Andrew...if he needed it. He definitely didn't!
A million thanks to Ashley and the Huntsville staff for looking out for us and truly treating us as VIPs. Team owner Keith Jeffries came by to visit, giving me a big hug and congratulating me on my retirement. Definitely a personal gesture which was much appreciated! Sending us Gigi's cupcakes was the icing on the cake...literally!
It's so tough to promote and arrange for a playoff game because it's always on short notice. This year was really bad for Huntsville because their regular rink had the circus in town. Kudos to them for getting AmericaOne available for the Snakes fans who couldn't make the trip, as well as the players' families. This broadcast is their lifeline to their sons and grandsons, sibs and friends who can't get down to Columbus to see them play. I know my friend Tommy Maldonado never misses a game...including game 1!!
When Shayne Stockton scored early in the second period, who would've thought it would be the only goal scored? Certainly not me! When the second ended with it still 1-0, I started worrying about my time frame. My editor had already told me that the Central time start made it impossible for me to make deadline for the print edition, but he'd put my story on-line as soon as I filed it. So it wasn't deadline that was stressing me out. It was the four-plus hour drive home and work at 9 in the morning. Yikes! If we went into OT, remember there's a full 18-minute intermission between regulation and OT. Guess I would've just gotten home, showered and gone to work if we'd gone beyond regulation...lol. As it turned out, got home at 4:45 and was at work at 9. It was worth losing a little sleep for seeing a classic playoff game.
Our Cottonmouths contingent was sitting near the net Andrew defended for the first and third periods, so we got an up close and personal look at the many saves he had to make to preserve the tiny lead. This included what Andrew called the "desperation" saves, which are the ones when he's sprawled out on the ice. These were particularly difficult for us to watch. Oh, yea...probably tough for Andrew as well. :)
Incredibly, the game ended 1-0 and the Snakes stole home ice advantage. Game 2 at home could clinch it. Even more amazing. But now this dream was starting to come into focus. Could the Snakes possibly make it to the finals and...win the Cup? Game 2 at home would be huge. NOT just for me, though making another trip to Huntsville was NOT what I preferred to do this Sunday. I asked Brad Prefontaine for a pregame meeting so I could convey this to the guys, but he seemed to think they had it covered.
Game 2. Nice crowd for a week night and short time to market. Scheduling for this round was horrible. The Civic Center was also booked both Friday and Saturday nights...UGH. An important event like round 2 didn't deserve a practice rink and weeknight games...:(
Some personal drama for me in game 2 as my son Reese became overheated before the game. Lindsey got my pal Larry 'Beamer' Keaton and his squad over to see about Reese, as he suffers from seizures and it first appeared that he was having one. But I think it was just that it was so hot in the arena when we got there. No AC on in April w the temps in the 70s? Later it became very comfortable but it was very stuffy in there early. Reese was wearing his Snakes jersey, with a t-shirt under it and had just eaten chicken fingers which were VERY hot. So I think it was the heat, but was so grateful for Beamer and the guys who were great with Reese.
Thanks to all of the fans who were so concerned about the unofficial mayor of Sec 102. Everyone was so kind to and concerned about our young man. Mary Beth Hendricks just wanted to do something...anything! to help him or me. His pals Miss Elaine and Teri came by several times as did Art Barker, Amy Kennedy, Leslie Landi, Miss Flit and Joe. The funny part...thankfully there was one...came when Reese won chuck-a-puck!! I sat with him the whole game, which means I may have to sit there for the finals if one is superstitious...:) and I really couldn't see him chuck the pucks. When the winners were being announced, I thought I heard them say Reese, so I looked up and this nice young man who sits down to the left from Larry and Reese had a big smile on his face and he said 'Reese won!' haha. No idea of his name, but his reaction made my night! Reese doesn't meet a stranger, especially in his section...haha
Back to the game. Playoff hockey at its best. The refs let them play and called a minimum of penalties. Huntsville took several silly penalties which gave the Snakes 5 power plays to only 1 for the Havoc. Huntsville converted its one chance, while the Snakes were 0 of 5. Classic example. Lots of shoving around the net as both teams were more protective than usual of their goalies. Matt Gingera, Paul Kurceba and one of the refs were right in front of Andrew. Matt and Kurceba were involved in a relatively mild skirmish, of which there were many. We were close enough to the ref to almost read his lips. He told them to break it up, let's move on...and no penalties were called. A great non-call, skirmish over, let's get back to the game. But, with the ref still standing there, Kurceba gives Matt a nice cross-check in the back and goes to the box. The Snakes didn't convert, but that kind of penalty in a close game could've been costly.
The back-and-forth game had plenty of other drama. Andrew made some key saves and the big guns fired in the third period to win the game and the series. Jordan and Matt saved the day with the game winner and empty netter.
Now it's on to the finals against...? Knoxville went into Pensacola and took game 1, 2-0 in which Bryan Hince, the Snakes' nemesis, was a wall, stopping 51 shots!! The Snakes now have the luxury of just waiting and resting til the next round. Ironic, isn't it, that the Snakes may get the chance to steal home ice from Knoxville after the Ice Bears stole it from them at the end of the regular season? Don't count Pensacola out, though. They'll come out with a huge sense of urgency tomorrow night in Knoxville. But how great would it be to see the league's numbers 6 and 7 seeds rise to the top and compete for the Cup?