If you saw tonight's Augusta-Cottonmouths game, you witnessed two of the SPHL's heavyweights in action. A preview of the league championship game? Very well could be!
This game had everything. The Snakes started out shorthanded on the blue line as Andrew Krelove is in South Carolina for a brief stay. He'll be back for Sunday afternoon's game against Fayetteville. Then, when pandemonium broke out to end the second, they lost Daniel Amesbury for the rest of the game...AND Will Barlow for the first five minutes of the period.
At this point it's 3-3 and all the momentum is with Augusta. The RiverHawks committed a slew of penalties back-to-back-to-back in the second, giving the Snakes three 5-on-3s. The Hawks penalties were stacked up like airplanes at the Atlanta airport and it looked like the wheels were coming off. The Snakes scored one PPG and one when a PP had just expired to take a 3-1 lead. Looked like they had Augusta on the ropes.
How quickly the tide turned. Two goals only 59 seconds apart not only tied it 3-3, but gave Augusta momentum going into the third period. When the Hawks went up 4-3, the crowd became a factor for the first time. Oh, other than the lovely chant..."hey, ref... " when their team was self-destructing. Here's where the wily vet Orrin Hergott shows how much he still has to contribute to this team and what a pro he is.
I've said many times that Orrin is the only player I've ever seen that can shoot the puck, get his own rebound, score, celebrate and get to the bench in a span of two seconds. The old guy may have lost a half-step, but he's as smart as ever, or maybe smarter. His line has been on fire basically since Greg Beller arrived. Tonight was no exception. Orrin had 2 goals and Greg had one. Derek Pallardy had an assist. We'll talk more about Greg in a minute.
Back to Orrin. Augusta scores, the building explodes and you see this big W slipping away. So what does Orrin do? Scores the equalizer only 36 seconds later. One of several times I hollered at the computer. Good job, Orrin!
Then comes a few painful minutes of waiting and wondering if the Snakes were going to suffer a last minute loss or would we all be put through the agony of OT...haha. Well, thanks to the talents of both goalies...Andrew Loewen and Peter Skoggard, we were treated to a full five-minute OT period, with nobody lighting the lamp. SO unusual. OT is the poster child for the thrill of victory/agony of defeat scenario. Usually one big mistake leads to one big opportunity. Game over. Not this time. We head to a shootout.
Jerome told me last year that he has no set shootout lineup. He goes with his gut. It worked again. He sent up Orrin, Tom Maldonado, Mitch Wall and John Sullivan with no goals. I'm hollering "where is Beller?". Not hollering loud enough for Jerome to hear me in Augusta, but...
This win doesn't happen without Greg. The Hawks were up 1-0 and if Greg doesn't put the puck in the net, well...you know what happens. A long bus ride home. Greg scores and we go to sudden death. What's more nervewracking than 3-on-3 OT? Sudden death in the shootout.
Gehring, who happens to be the Hawks' leading scorer, misses and Jordan Braid gets his turn to be the hero. SCORE. Game over. Exhale. Awesome job in the most pressure-packed situation, Jordan!
This team continues to amaze me. Don't forget one of the leaders of this team, Sam Bowles, is on the shelf. Not naming names, but several others are playing through injuries, which is common at this time of year.
For five whole minutes, they played with only 4 d-men. FOUR. I thought Tom and Bret Tyler were going to need oxygen as both were doing double shifts. Is there such a thing as triple shifts? Well, these two guys are first up on the PP and Augusta had plenty of them, nine to be exact. Kudos to the d-men for not only surviving the loss of Andrew K, but contributing to the victory big time.
Tom had three assists and Bret two. Jordan, Orrin and Bret are now the Snakes' scoring leaders with 34 points each.
Andrew made some unbelievable saves. He and Skoggard each had one fantastic save in the shootout. Nice job, Andrew!
The Snakes now have 14 games remaining, 5 of which are against the Hawks. Since it's a four-point swing every time Augusta and Columbus play, these matchups will have a significant impact on who wins the regular-season crown.