Pick a cliche, Snakes fans. Cottonmouths have their backs against the wall...it's do or die time...there is no tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow...
The Cottonmouths have a little over 24 hours until they have to hit the ice with a vengeance. Last night's 9-1 loss (still can't believe I just typed a 9!!) can either serve to inspire or demoralize them. Which way will it go?
I've seen some really awful games in my 10 years covering the team, but this may be the worst on a big stage. Ya'all know I'm a positive person. Suffice to say, I'm positive I can't find anything really good to say about this game. Yikes.
All season long, we've talked about how important it is to score the first goal. It helps in every way. Psychologically, it gives you a lift to draw first blood. On the road, it takes your opponents' fans out of the game early. Trust me, the opposite happened last night.
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First of all, kudos to Pensacola for not only getting a nice crowd on a Thursday night (4266) but for providing an electric game experience. Their sound system is LOUD and CLEAR and they play this music that keep your heart racing for three hours. Their fans are really into the whole experience.
Suffice to say, that the crowd was jubilant from the :31 mark until the end. They can smell this championship and they definitely were the 7th man last night.
Thanks to my new BFF Geoff Nichols of the Ice Flyers staff. I not only spent the evening in hockey hell, but technology hell as well. UGH. Cell phone dying, no internet and the laptop battery failing. Geoff personally guided me to the Ice Flyers' office where I could file my story, then to the lockerroom area where my daughter was about to call 911. Lindsey had no idea where I was, just that I was not in my seat and not near the locker room. What a night!
I had the privilege of seeing 6 of the 9 Pensacola goals up close and personal. The first three were surreal. Andrew didn't react. The D didn't react. It was like a weird movie script where the actual players were replaced by robots...who had no idea what to do!! I was sitting in the handicapped seats by a nice gentleman named Warren, a season ticket holder who normally sits center ice but was near his wheelchair-bound friend. We chatted about a variety of topics and Warren graciously gave me his roster when I couldn't access Pointstreak.
I almost laughed when Jerome said that the team didn't play in front of Shannon Szabados any more than they did in front of Andrew Loewen. It was definitely true. I felt terrible for Andrew. He's been on such a roll and playing so well. Lights out.
When the sixth goal went in, I looked down at the bench, already knowing what was going to happen. It's so tricky with a goalie. You want to give him a chance to work his way out of any situation, but SIX goals is kind of on the high side. You can't leave him in there to get absolutely battered for the rest of the game. Plus, who knows what change will spark your team?
Alas, nothing sparked the Snakes on this night. When I looked at the bench, I saw Shannon tying her hair into a pony tail and knew what was coming. So did Andrew. He skated a few strides in front of the bench, looked over and saw Shannon hop onto the ice and the two swapped places.
This was the very first time that Andrew has been pulled from a game all season. My heart hurt for him. What a night...:(
Shannon made some stops, but let in three of her own. Same problem as with Andrew. No support in front. Now here's one of my least fond memories of this night (and, believe me, there's a list).
After Shannon gave up a goal, some of the Pensacola faithful started chanting: USA...USA...USA. How ignorant can you be? (a) Probably 80-90% of the players on the ice are Canadian. (b) Olympic History 101: uh...Shannon and her team actually beat the USA in Sochi and (c) the girl has two gold medals...how many do you have? Geeeeez.
I must point out that this was a small group of Ice Flyers fans. But, believe me, they could be heard. Most of the crowd was very supportive and my pal Warren, his friend and some of the young girls who work in the office were just as outraged as I was. I admit it was a terrible night and I was tired and frustrated, but it ticked me off big time. I wanted to get in these fools' faces and tell them that Shannon has more courage and guts than any of them ever hope to have in this or any other lifetime. They need to shut up, grow up and find a little respect for her and what she's achieved. Rant over...
The big question: what will happen on Saturday night? Excellent question. I can't predict that because I could never have predicted Thursday night's debacle. I will tell you this...Pensacola is good. They're really good. Are they beatable? Obviously. They struggled at times against Knoxville. They're not invincible. But if the Snakes play again as they did last night, the outcome will be the same and season will end very badly...at home.
We'll know soon enough. See you at the Pit tomorrow night at 7:30!!