The SPHL championship is in the Cottonmouths' sights...only 1 win away. Just keep repeating those words to yourself and try to let it sink in. I'm not sure I've completely processed it myself. That's what writing a story (or two!) a day will do to you...haha. I'm so caught up in this whirlwind that the full impact still hasn't hit me.
Last night was championship hockey at its finest. Hard hitting, superb goaltending and neither team willing to give an inch. The home crowd was fantastic, very loud and very supportive. Kudos to the busload (or two?) of Pensacola fans who came to loudly and passionately support their team. They came in full Ice Flyers gear with signs and so much enthusiasm. It was awesome!!
Now it's time for the Snakes to head into the lions' den...an arena that promises to be just as loud in its support for the Flyers as the Pit was for them.
The objective laid out in October...check that, the goal set minutes after a heartbreaking loss to Augusta last April...has now been simplified quite a bit. The checklist is winding down. 56 regular-season games...over. Sweeps in rounds 1 and 2. Done.
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Game 1 of the championship is in the win column. But the greatest task remains. Winning game 2 in a hostile environment. Technically, the Snakes have to win 1 of the next 2 games. But I guarantee they're not thinking that way. They're thinking about winning the Cup tomorrow night.
I started my evening off right last night with a still-warm Krispy Kreme doughnut courtesy of Dave Kessler. My husband was taking care of our grand dog Jaxon, since his parents were both incredibly tied up :) so I had to get Reese's chicken basket (hey, we all have our game day rituals). Dave, who often brings treats to his usher pals...and me...came by and offered me a little slice of heaven. YUM. Thanks a lot, Dave!
It's been really great to see so many parents visit share all of the fun of this season with their sons. I've met some new friends and family members and reconnected with others...families of John Sullivan, Tom Maldonado, Brett Hammond, Ian Vigier, Will Barlow and, of course, Kevin Kessler. There have been many others come that I didn't get to meet.
Eric Barlow came by and visited Miss Flit, Joe and me last night. When we fussed at him for not coming down here often enough to suit us, Eric turned the tables on us. Like we'd abandoned him on somebody's doorstep, Eric said he'd come by to see us and NONE of us were there. That was the weekend my niece Joanne got married as did Miss Flit and Joe's granddaughter. Yikes. Eric felt like he was caught in a bad movie...who kidnapped 3 of his favorite Columbus people? haha. We visited for a few minutes before he headed back to his lucky seat. Always great to see you and Karen, Eric!
I'd agreed to cover the game for the Pensacola paper, as I did the previous series for Huntsville. That's a little weird for me because I only have a surface knowledge of the other teams. Of course, I know the basics, but don't know details like whose mom and dad are in town and who had newborn baby boys and who missed practice this week and is trying to keep that from me (they try that, you know...)
So I brushed up on my Pensacola Ice Flyers facts and figures. Tops on my priority list was not to call them Ice...something else. Like Bears or Gators maybe? Remember, the Snakes haven't played them recently.
I researched the Ian vs Steve Christie duel. You'll see more about that in the paper tomorrow morning. I familiarized myself with some of the names on their roster, which, as the Snakes' roster has, definitely underwent changes this season.
One name that stood out is Dan Buccella, who has played all 8 years of the SPHL's existence for 5 different teams. He's played for Huntsville, Fayetteville, Knoxville, Louisiana and Pensacola.
I interviewed Buccella and Pensacola coach Todd Gordon after the game for the Pensacola version of the story. Not that the truth has versions, but Snakes fans and Pensacola fans want to hear their own players and coaches describe the game and its key moments. Both were great and very cooperative.
This is the first time I've interviewed Todd. We played phone tag earlier in the week as I wanted to talk to him for one of my stories. But I've always appreciated the coach from an opposing team taking the time to stop me in the hallway and tell me he reads my stories and enjoys them. Thanks a lot, Todd!
I interviewed Ian and Orrin Hergott, the rookie/veteran who has had such a magical year on all levels. Both looked a little dazed, an indicator of how intense a game they'd just played.
A couple of odds and ends from the past week, where I've been so wrapped up in stories, I've been missing in action here...
When I had the idea of doing the box with the players' photos and an assessment from Jerome, I didn't think of Brad Prefontaine joining us. That is kind of an indicator of Brad's role on this team. It's been very understated and low key, but he has made a major impact on the Snakes. An all-star d-man in his day, not only has Brad worked with an already-tremendous blue line corps, but having an extra pair of eyes, ears and skates in practice had to be an asset to Jerome.
Well, Brad sat down with Jerome and me and made some great contributions to the piece. One that he made that didn't make it to print...
I named each player and the two coaches commented. I got to one particular player and Jerome gave me several phrases. Brad chimes in..."and a wonderful human being". We all laughed and then I look down and I realized that I'd started to write the word "wonderf..." haha. You never know what these guys will say. Keeps me on my toes.
When we got to Orrin, Jerome said.."the Energizer bunny...what is that? keeps on ticking?" No, Jerome...you can't combine 2 products. The Energizer bunny...keeps going and going and going. Timex watches...take a licking and keep on ticking. Actually, Orrin is both!!!
I hope you enjoyed my story on Greg Beller. What luck/incredibly good judge of talent to get Greg. Very humble and unassuming. Great to be able to tell his story.
Before I sign off and start working on my story for tomorrow, a huge thank-you to one and all at the Ledger-Enquirer for their support especially during this postseason. I've been telling them all season long that this is a special team, but then...I say a lot of stuff haha.
From my editor Kevin Price to chief copy editor Stephanie Pedersen to old friend Mark Rice, to Emily Settle on the desk whom I've never even met, I placed all of my stories in their capable hands each night. They all respected and tried to understand my passion for this beat and I appreciate that. The space and play they've given the championship run has been amazing.
Stephanie called me at 4:30 on Tuesday afternoon. The editor (not sure who...but thanks!) wanted to know if I could do something for A-1 on Thursday. Uhhhhhhh. Let me think. YES. In 35 years, I've been on A-1 exactly three times. A-1 is where presidents and kings, CEOs and soldiers and big criminals get to be. Hockey and I are none of the above. I was honored and proceeded to spend the next 6 hours putting together the story. :)
Everyone has a dream job. This is mine. This is my little corner of the world and I'm so grateful to have been given this opportunity. That decision was made by Kevin and I'm most appreciative.
Enough of this sentimentality. :) Back to work and off to Pensacola tomorrow. Can't wait!!!