Columbus Cottonmouths goaltender Mavric Parks got the nod Tuesday night in Game 1 of the best-of-three opening round series against the top-seeded Macon Mayhem in the Southern Professional Hockey League playoffs.
The first-year netminder saved his best performance of the year for the opening act of the postseason, stopping all 52 Macon shots en route to his first pro shutout.
Parks’s effort in the 1-0 victory made Alex Kromm’s lone goal of the game by either team stand up as all the offense Columbus needed. As a result, the Cottonmouths took what is a commanding 1-0 series lead over the Mayhem, with Game 2 set for Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Columbus Civic Center. Should Macon emerge victorious Wednesday night, a deciding Game 3 would be on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., also in Columbus.
“I was just glad we won,” Parks said. “All the guys pulled their weight tonight, blocking shots, letting me see shots. It was a full 60-minute effort. Macon’s a very strong team, but winning that first game in a short series is critical. It’s always nice to perform for your teammates in the playoffs when it really counts.
“Sometimes you find a groove and do less thinking and more playing, just keeping it simple. Tonight, my teammates really let me see the puck, and that makes my job so much easier. There weren’t many shots where I had to battle through traffic. They were strong clearing the front of the net and clearing rebounds. I just focused on the puck, and I think if you do that, you have a lot of success as a goaltender.”
“Tonight was obviously a huge win,” said Cottonmouths head coach Jerome Bechard. “I don’t think we played our best, but goaltending can win you hockey games.
“Mavric Parks was the star of the game, obviously. He made some unbelievable saves and kept us in the game when we needed to. We showed some spurts of what we needed to accomplish, but you have to give Macon credit. They kept coming. Everyone on our team was blocking shots, so that was another plus.”
The Mayhem barrage was a steady one throughout the game: 16 shots in the first period, 18 each in the second and third frames. Parks managed to stop each and every one of them, some saves of the acrobatic variety, to keep the Cottonmouths’ tenuous lead.
“I thought we played really well,” said Macon head coach Kevin Kerr. “It just wasn’t our night. I told our guys earlier in the year that there’d be games where I’d walk into the locker room and you’ll be hanging your head and say ‘guys, we did everything we could.’ This was one of those games, but I hate it was during the playoffs. We threw the puck at him, we made plays, we attacked. I thought we played a great transition game. We limited their opportunities and played the game we were supposed to play and we preached to our players to play.”
The only offense either team found came just 21 seconds into the second period, when Kromm tipped a Nick Owen point shot just above the crease and past Mayhem goaltender Jordan Ruby to give the Cottonmouths a 1-0 advantage that Parks held up throughout the rest of the contest.
Macon outshot Columbus 52-22 in the game despite the loss.
“We have to be better than what we were tonight,” Bechard said. “Offensively, we need to break out cleanly. It’s all Macon. They’re such an aggressive hockey team. We’re trying to take time and make a pretty play, but when you think you have time, things close up quickly and you turn it over.”
“It’s playoff time; those things happen,” Kerr said. “You get a hot goaltender in a groove, and you just have to find a way to beat him and get one by him. Give Parks credit, he played a great game. It’s just one of those things. We did everything we could do to win that hockey game. We just needed to find an opportunity to break the ice, and I feel like if we did, we could have put a couple more in the net.”
For Parks, it was his fourth consecutive victory against Macon after stymieing the Mayhem in three consecutive regular-season games last month.
“I get myself up personally to play the best teams in the league,” Parks said. “It’s a good measuring stick for yourself individually and as a team. It was good to keep it rolling.”
The net is likely up to Parks for the rest of the postseason run, a challenge Bechard says for which he is definitely qualified.
“He comes from a pretty good background where everywhere he’s played, he’s won,” Bechard said. “He was the go-to guy in college and junior. He’s got that mental game. There’s not a lot that bothers him, and once he gets one or two saves, he gets stronger as the game goes on.”
“It’s a lot easier to be ready and be energized for playoff games with our season on the line,” Parks said. “You still have to take care of yourself away from the rink; stay hydrated, cold tub, eat healthy, and that’ll take care of the rest.”
Top-seeded Macon returns to Civic Center ice tonight with the chance of being the first team out of the SPHL playoff picture, less than a week after clinching the league’s regular-season championship.
“I think we have to keep playing the same way we’re playing,” Kerr said. “Our backs are against the wall. We’ve said all year we can’t lose two in a row. We’re going to be desperate, but we’re going to play the same way. If we play the same way we did tonight, I like our chances, and then we’ll worry about Game 3.
If we run into a hot goalie again, (stuff) happens. I hate to say that, but it’s part of the game.”
“I told the guys to enjoy themselves in the locker room for about 30 minutes and understand how much we had to put into it to get the win,” Bechard said. “At the end of the day, we haven’t done anything. It’s a three-game series, and (Wednesday) is huge. Obviously, Macon’s back is against the wall, but we have to play like our backs are against the wall and not worry about anything else.”