It's hard to believe that the Snakes have completed the full 56 games of the regular season. Maybe it's because this has been such an enjoyable season that it's flown by. But...it's playoff time!!!
At about two minutes before my deadline, the playoff pairings were finalized. Here they are:
#1 Augusta vs #8 Huntsville
#2 Columbus vs #7 Louisiana
#3 Knoxville vs #6 Mississippi RiverKings
#4 Pensacola vs $5 Mississippi Surge
The Snakes are taking a full head of steam into the playoffs. This weekend is a great example of what this team is capable of doing. Three games in three nights, including horrendous travel.
Game one in Knoxville. They overcame a huge shot differential, built a 2-0 lead, lost it and pulled out a last-minute, controversial (to some folks in Knoxville) OT win.
Game two in Fayetteville. Ran into a lethargic Fayetteville team, a team that put forth little, if any, effort, and the Snakes took full advantage. Savor these words: SIX power play goals. Not sure we'll hear them any time soon!
Drive home all the way from Fayetteville to take on their bitter rivals from across the state. Augusta had the top seed locked up but definitely didn't want to go into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak, which is what they ended up doing. The RiverHawks lost 5-1 to Knoxville on Friday and 4-1 to the Snakes tonight.
This game was much more physical than I expected. The crowd of nearly 4,000 LOVED it. Lots of fights, lots of hitting. I guess Dave Kessler told his son that we all expect the KK Hit of the Day. Well, Kevin delivered two in the first 5 minutes of the game! We should've known that an intense game was coming...
I told Miss Flit and Joe that I haven't seen crisp passing like this out of a team in quite a while. Tape to tape, traffic or no traffic, the puck is going where it's suppposed to go! I mentioned that to Derek Pallardy and he said, in effect...it took us 56 games, but we've finally gotten it right! haha
The passing this season has reminded of the most intuitive, prolific line in Snakes SPHL history...Tim Green, Tylor Keller and Ryan Rutz. Those three guys were a machine. The moment they stepped on to the ice, everyone in the building expected a goal. They answered the call many, many times! They had great communication out there and always knew where each other was.
So which line is the new Green-Keller-Rutz on this year's team? Actually, all of them. That's the great thing about this year's team. There are three lines, all very different, but all very effective.
Look at the goals scored against the RiverHawks: Orrin Hergott, Mitch Wall, Levi Lind and Dave Cianfrini.
Orrin's was the direct result of great passing. He, Greg Beller and Derek are so well suited to each other. They work so well together and match each other stride for stride in the speed department.
Mitch should give half of his goal to Will Barlow because it really doesn't happen without Will's tenacity. When Will goes behind the net to get the puck, he flat out won't leave there until he gets it. Craig Stahl used to be really good at that, too. Well, Will's battle for the puck led to Mitch's goal. Be sure to look at Mike Haskey's picture of the pure joy on Mitch's face...matched only by that on Will's!
Again, great passing found Levi positioned dead center in front of the net. Precise, neat, crisp, methodical passing.
A contender for goal of the year was Dave's. Even better was talking about it afterward. Dave said all of a sudden he was at the blue line and he didn't feel any pressure. No Hawks circling around him. Oh...I'm on a breakaway...haha.
I asked what he was thinking other than the obvious: please, don't let me miss this. He said he just tried to make a simple move on Olthuis and he did. Went five-hole and beat him. Don't know who had the bigger grin: Dave or his defensive partner, Tom Maldonado. It was the icing on the cake.
This game was meant to send a message to the RiverHawks, who use intimidation as their cornerstone. The Cottonmouths will match them fist for fist in that department. They will back down from nobody. Message sent and received. Will the road to the SPHL championship go through Augusta? We'll have to wait and see. But if it does, the Snakes will be ready.
One note that has nothing to do with the game itself. I thought it was tacky and disrespectful for Augusta to make its grand entrance onto the ice when a group of school kids had already begun singing our national anthem. Either get out before the anthem starts or wait until its over.
Ian Vigier was a wall. So, what else is new. It nearly killed me not to vote for Ian for Goaltender of the Year. Coaches and selected media vote for these awards, but we're not allowed to vote for players we coach or cover. Ian is the best goalie in this league. Others have had great years, like Kiefer Smiley of the MSS and both of Augusta's goalies. But, Ian is the best. Period.
It's really nice to finally know who the Snakes will face in round one, but the realization was bittersweet for me because I can't go to Louisiana. Last season, Huntsville and Augusta were easy for me to get to and get back in time for my "real" job the next day. Louisiana is quite a hike, so I'll have to watch on the web.
I'll be writing the game story and calling Jerome and a couple of guys for reaction afterward, so I'll do my best from the friendly confines of my home.
Can't wait for the second season to begin!!