Monday, April 12, 2010

2010 SPHL Playoffs: Game 4 (post script)

*****Apologies to all who previously read this post to read only the first sentence declaring that our season is over. I accidentally published that post before finishing and then subsequently lost everything I had added to it before it posted. So, without further ado, here is Take 2.

Well, our season is over. It obviously didn't end the way we hoped it would. It came crashing down with a resounding Thud Friday night in Biloxi. In a game that really was closer than the final 6-2 score, the Cottonmouths playoff run came to an abrupt and unceremonious end. The shame of it is that in the process the career of Snakes Captain Craig Stahl also met its untimely conclusion. This was not the way he intended to close out his remarkable 12-year journey. He deserved better. While the Snakes were only down 2-1 entering the third period, they just didn't have enough left in the tank to keep the wolves at bay any longer (pun on Mississippi's former team nickname intended). The Surge exploded for 4 goals in the third and the rest, as they say, was history.

Not to make excuses, but maybe their minds were elsewhere (perhaps at the hospital with Sam Bowles). About midway through the second period, Bowles had suffered a gash on his head as a result of a flying elbow delivered by Surge defenseman Ryan Bartle. This type of cheap shot is pretty standard from Bartle (who delivered a similar elbow to Bowles in a game in Columbus earlier this season, triggering the infamous "School Day Brawl"), but the result this time was more severe. Bartle's hit stunned Bowles, who appeared to be unconscious before he hit the ice (he didn't move his arms or brace himself during the fall, like most players do when falling). His head bounced off the ice, causing a pressure cut on the back of his head (despite the helmet still being on at impact). Bartle was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct and would later receive a one-game suspension for the hit.

The Surge was leading in the game 1-0 at the time of the Bartle penalty. The Snakes tied the score on the ensuing 3-minute penalty (5-minute major minus 2-minute minor to McCarthy for going after Bartle), but were unable to sustain any real pressure and left the second period trailing 2-1 after a late goal by Tim Velemirovich.

The Surge came out hard in the third and the Snakes seemed a little flat. Steve Weidlich and Velemirovich scored early in the frame for the Surge, putting the Snakes back on their heels. Orrin Hergott connected on the power play midway through the third to draw the Cottonmouths back to within 2 goals (In an ironic twist, the Snakes' normally lethargic power play connected twice while the #1-ranked Surge power play went 0 for 8). Then Surge forward Chris Greene went to work, scoring two remarkable goals a minute and a half apart. On two separate plays, Greene batted a puck out of mid-air into the Snakes goal after a centering pass was broken up by a defender. They were both very difficult plays, demonstrating excellent hand-eye coordination. The second of those made the score 6-2 and drove the final nails into the Snakes' coffin.

It was a very somber dressing room after the game. Sammy was still at the hospital getting x-rays and a CT scan, and information about his condition was sketchy, at best. Coupled with that there was the realization that many of these guys have played their last game together...and in some cases their last game, period. We just kind of sat in the dressing room for about an hour and soaked it all in. Then, finally, guys slowly began to get undressed, showered, and packed and loaded. We boarded the bus for the longest 5-hour bus ride most of us could remember. Our spirits were bouyed, however, by the return of Sammy. He could have ridden home with his Father (who had driven to Biloxi to watch the game), but Sammy was adamant about wanting to ride the bus home with his teammates. We got home and hung the gear (a blues show at the Civic Center Saturday forced us to hang our gear in the clubhouse at Golden Park), then headed home to begin the off-season. It's going to be a long Summer.

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