The morning after the season ends is never easy. There's such a void, such an empty feeling. And that's just me...can you imagine how tough it is for the players this morning? Well, the ones that are awake this "early" ...lol
This year's emptiness is even tougher to take than the other seven times that the Snakes didn't bring home the Cup as this is the first loss in the finals. The first time another team skated the prized trophy on your home ice. The first time you participated in the traditional handshake knowing that was about to take place. Ouch.
In the waning moments of my covering this team, I can't deviate from what I've always tried to do in this space and in my news and feature stories and that's tell the truth. So, here it is...
The Pensacola Ice Flyers were the better team. They're not a bad ECHL team and a really good CHL team. They're clearly the cream of the SPHL crop.
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The Snakes are...sorry, were...a good team. You have to admire their grit and determination, especially in the last month of the season. The Cottonmouths went from teetering on the brink of elimination from the playoffs to meeting the eventual league champions in the finals.
They dropped game one in Peoria and reeled off four straight wins before running into a buzzsaw that, honestly, no other SPHL team could have skated with. Pensacola is big, fast, talented, disciplined. Name it, they have it. A solid, well-rounded championship team.
It's the mark of a champion when they can take a good team and make it look bad. The Ice Flyers took the Snakes off their game, big time. They forced more turnovers in the past two games than the Cottonmouths had in a month. They made what has become a solid offensive team and shut it down. The top scoring line...zero-for-the-series. A measly two goals in two games for a team that had steadily improved offensively.
Defensively, the Snakes struggled in both games. There were way too many times Andrew Loewen and Shannon Szabados were left high and dry. Granted, there were goals that the goalies would like to have back. But it's the mark of a superb team to take a talented goalie like Andrew and skyrocket his GAA in just two games from 1.21 to 2.58. Ouch...again.
Before I type one more word, I want to make it clear that I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, blame all of Pensacola or its fans for the ignorant slam of Shannon on Thursday night. It was a small, vocal minority, but it was still uncalled for and a disgrace. I couldn't help but wonder if any of the crowd for which Shannon graciously posed for pics and signed autographs were among the foolish USA chanters. I didn't want to leave the false impression that this was hundreds of Ice Flyers fans or that it was anywhere close to the majority. It was certainly not.
Kudos to all the Pensacola fans who made the trip to Columbus to see their team raise the Cup. I flashed back two years to a similar number of Snakes fans who went to Pensacola and the wonderful photos taken that night with the Columbus contingent in the background. The Pensacola fans were loud and proud in support of their team, which they should have been. That's what the SPHL is all about. Passionate devotion to your team. Congratulations to a deserving champion.
Two more things to write before my tenure as the Snakes beat writer comes to a close. My annual Q and A with Jerome and my farewell blog. Time to get busy...