Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Movember!

***Once again, I have fallen way behind in my blog, but I intend to get caught up soon. Here's my recap of the month of November. Watch for December in the coming days. As always, thanks for reading and your feedback is appreciated.

After the quick start, the Snakes went on a roller coaster ride. We started things off on Veterans Day in Memphissippi. After falling behind in the first minute of the game on a Rob Sich goal, the Snakes traded goals with Sich in the second period and entered the third period trailing 2-1.  The Snakes controlled the play in the third and finally managed to tie the game at 2 goals apiece on a power-play goal by John Sullivan late in the third.  This goal really energized our whole team. It looked like we would manage to steal another victory from the Riverkings on their home ice. The teams traded scoring opportunities in the overtime period and then something happened that I still can't believe. In what may be the worst call I've ever seen, the linesman whistled us for too many men on the ice. It wasn't even close. I was at the end of the bench where it happened, and there's no way this should have been a penalty. Levi was coming to the bench for a change as the play was coming towards our end.  Sammy hopped the boards to replace him, but not before Levi decided nobody was coming so he turned away from the bench to get back into the play. As soon as Sammy hit the ice he realized that Levi had turned away and Sammy turned to come back to the bench. As he turned, Sammy lost an edge and fell to the ice in front of our bench. Levi still hadn't crossed the blue line into our defensive zone when Sammy got back onto the bench. The linesman blew the play dead and called us for Too Many Men on the Ice, despite the fact that neither player was in any way involved with the play (the key criterion for a Too Many Men penalty). Since there were only 3 seconds left on the clock in the overtime period, Referee Jason Schulz assessed a penalty shot based on an SPHL rule regarding penalties incurred without sufficient time remaining. Mark Magnowski scored on the ensuing penalty shot and won the game for the Riverkings. To add insult to injury, we later found out that the SPHL doesn't even have that rule anymore, so the penalty shot wasn't even an automatic call as we had thought.  Regardless, it never should have been a penalty anyway under any definition of Too Many Men. It was a very frustrating way to lose a hockey game.

We didn't have time to dwell on the loss. We had to load the bus and head for Knoxville. We got into Knoxville at around 5am and dropped off the gear at the rink, then headed to the hotel to get some rest. We started off slowly in the game, weathering a barrage of shots in the first period. We actually got on the board first with a goal from Levi Lind. The IceBears responded with a goal of their own and the teams went into the first intermission tied at 1 goal apiece.

There was a scary moment in the early part of the second period. Snakes center Greg Beller, making his Cottonmouths debut, went in on the forecheck into the IceBears zone and the Bears D-Man tried to clear the puck out of the zone. The puck came up and caught Beller squarely on the jaw, sending him sprawling on the ice. Hannah hurried out to him and escorted him off the ice to begin treatment. There was a large pool of blood on the ice and a hush came over the crowd. There was a fairly long delay while crews tried to clean up the blood so that the game could continue. The whole place seemed to be in shock. Even after play resumed both sides seemed to be walking on eggshells for the first couple of minutes.

The roles were reversed in the second, with the Snakes holding a wide margin in shots and the Bears scoring first only to be answered by Snakes forward (and former IceBear) Derek Pallardy. The Snakes again held the shot advantage in the third, but fell behind on a goal by Emery Olauson early in the frame. It took a late power-play goal by Brett Hammond to tie the game and force overtime. But our luck in Knoxville remained consistent...a nothing play and a funny hop off the boards turned into a goal in the blink of an eye. The Ghosts of Knoxville had their way with us again. We have the worst luck in that building, from freak injuries to crazy bounces and fluky goals.

Once again, we didn't have time to feel sorry for ourselves about the loss. It was back on the bus and back to Columbus for another 4pm matinee against Fayetteville for all of us except for Beller and Hannah, who spent the night (and another couple of days) at the hospital in Knoxville. Luckily, Beller came out of surgery okay...although he would be out of action for quite a while.

Movember jerseys
We got back to Columbus early on Sunday (around 4am) and dropped the gear at the Civic Center before sending the players home to get some rest. I started working on laundry and getting things ready for the game later that day. We were set to debut our special "Movember" jerseys (see pic at right) for the first of 3 games during the month of November. For those of you who aren't familiar, Moustache November or "Movember" is a campaign to raise awareness of men's health issues (including prostate cancer). Most of the players on the team and several members of the staff (myself included) signed up on the Movember web site to raise money for cancer research. As part of the program, we all grew mustaches for the month of November to show our support and draw attention to the campaign.  After wearing the special jerseys for 3 home games during the month we were to auction them off with the proceeds going to benefit men's health issues.

Both teams were rounding out 3 games in 3 nights, so both came out rather tentatively at the start. Each side only managed 8 shots on goal in the first period, with Chris Rebernik starting off the scoring for the Fireantz, and Jesse Cole answering about 30 seconds later. Levi Lind added a late goal to give the Snakes a 2-1 advantage. Andrew Willock scored for the Antz in the second, sandwiched between goals by Andrew Krelove (his first as a pro) and Bret Tyler. Rebernik scored 10 seconds into the third to close the gap to 4-3, but Scorin' Orrin closed out the scoring midway through the period for a 5-3 final score. The Snakes salvaged the weekend with a much-needed win (and 4 out of 6 possible points) and earned a day off.

We began the next weekend at home against the Huntsville Havoc. We dominated most of the game, but Havoc goalie Mark Sibbald held us to one goal in regulation and overtime. The game wasn't decided until sudden-death in the shootout when Levi Lind scored the game winner with the Snakes' 6th attempt.

We started off the game slowly the next night against Pensacola (a recurring theme lately) and the Ice Flyers capitalized with 2 goals in the first 2:35 of the game. We tried to claw our way back into the game but couldn't manage to tie it up (despite a 2-to-1 margin in shots) and we lost the game 3-2.

We had a quick turnaround into the next week with a rare Tuesday game against the Knoxville Ice Bears.  For a change, this time we were the team that got off to the quick start. Snakes Defenseman David Cianfrini scored just 45 seconds into the game to give us an early lead. After the goal, I was surprised to have one of the guys toss me the game puck (This usually occurs when a player scores his first professional goal, as we keep the puck to give the player as a souvenir). Knowing that Cheech had played here nearly all of last season, I couldn't imagine that he hadn't scored a goal before. I held onto the puck anyway, then used my smart phone to look up his stats between periods. I was shocked to find out that it was indeed his first goal as a professional. Congratulations, Cheech! Sam Bowles added a goal later in the period for a 2-0 lead after one period. Jeremy Klaver scored a power-play goal for the Ice Bears in the early part of the second period, answered by Sam Bowles and Mitch Wall midway through the frame. The Snakes took a 4-1 lead into the third period and apparently decided that that was enough because we only took 2 shots the rest of the way. The Ice Bears managed 8 shots but Ian Vigier only let one of those get past him to preserve the 4-2 victory for the Cottonmouths.

After the Thanksgiving holiday (and a practice on Thanksgiving day) we hosted the Huntsville Havoc on Friday night. After a back and forth first period (and despite a second period in which they were outshot 13-9) the Snakes took a 2-0 lead in the second on the strength of a power-play goal by Tom Maldonado and a short-handed goal by Bret Tyler. Stuart Stefan and Shaun Arvai countered in the third to force overtime. Then Andrew Krelove capped off the win 2 minutes into the overtime score Snakes defensemen 3 - Havoc 2.

After the game we got back on the bus to head for Lafayette, Louisiana to play the Ice Gators. We arrived early in the morning, dropped off our gear at the Cajundome, then headed to the hotel to get some sleep. Tyler and I cabbed it down to the rink early to set up. I hate the new locker room they put us in at the Cajundome this season. It's actually the old UL Ragin' Cajuns basketball locker room. It's actually a nice room, but it's very small (intended for 10-12 basketball players, not 18 hockey players with full gear). Apparently, the Cajuns decided that they needed a bigger room, so they booted the Ice Gators out of their room, forcing the Gators to move into the former visitors' room. The only room left was the Cajuns' old room. So tiny. There are lockers in the room, but they're tiny little basketball lockers, intended to hang each players street clothes and uniform. Even if we give 2 of those lockers to a player, it's a tight squeeze to hang all of their gear. And that's only enough lockers for 7 or 8 players. It leaves the rest of the team sitting on chairs against a bare wall with no hooks or anything on which to hang gear. This means that most guys are laying their stuff out on the floor or draping it over the back of their chair. It's not very conducive to drying out the gear (a big factor in a humid climate) and it's basically impossible to organize the room in any sort of neat-looking way. It's an equipment manager's nightmare. If you look at the locker room picture above you can see how neat and orderly everything looks. This room in Louisiana is the opposite of that.

Despite the challenges, we made the room look as neat as possible - passing out the laundry, game socks, and game jerseys to each player's pile of gear. I set up the sharpener and began sharpening skates for the players who needed it. By the time the players arrived, Tyler and I had done everything we could to ensure that the guys would be ready for the game.

Unfortunately, they weren't ready. We started slowly once again (getting outshot 9-4) and left the first period trailing by a score of 1-0. The Snakes reversed the shooting trend (14-10) and managed to score 2 goals in the second period, but the Gators managed 3 of their own in between. The game was hard-fought and gritty, with several Snakes players getting cut by sticks to the face. Peter MacDougall had his nose broken by an errant stick. None of them resulted in penalties; only blood. Neither team scored in the third (nor took many shots at 5-5), and the Gators skated away with a 4-2 victory.

Again, we boarded the bus and headed to Memphissippi for a 3pm game on Sunday. We arrived at the DeSoto Civic Center at around 6:30 in the morning. We dropped the gear and the players headed to the hotel. Tyler and I stayed at the rink to get set up and get ready for the game. The laundry facilities in the DCC are in the visitors' locker room, so it was easy and convenient to do our own laundry. We set up the glove dryer and fans in the room to help dry the gear and rotated players gear on and off the glove dryers. Once the game socks were washed and dried I sorted through them to see if any needed to be sewn. I had to sew a couple of pairs, then paired them up and passed them out. In the meantime, the underwear went into the dryers. While it was spinning, I set about the task of replacing MacDougall's visor with a full-face shield to protect his broken nose. I got it finished, got the underwear passed out, hung the game jerseys, then started on skates. The guys showed up around 1pm and started getting ready for the game.

Both sides came out hard in the first period, with the Snakes holding a 13-12 advantage in shots. Both goalies weathered the storm, only allowing one goal each. Peter MacDougall, still feeling the effects of a high stick from the night before, took a hard check into the boards and injured his shoulder. He left the game and didn't return. After Scorin' Orrin Hergott gave the Snakes a lead 2 minutes into the second period, the floodgates opened for the Riverkings and they exploded for 4 unanswered goals. They dominated the play, outshooting us 15-7 in the period. The boys came back out in the third and answered the bell, with Tom Maldonado scoring just a minute into the period. Despite outshooting them 16-6 in the frame we just couldn't manage to come from behind. Mike Tuomi scored an unassisted shorthanded goal at 13:02 to complete the hat trick (and take the wind out of our sails). Jordan Braid scored his second of the game at 16:05, but it was too little too late. The Riverkings held on for a 6-4 victory.  It was a tough way to end November, but we were still above .500 on the season and sitting in 3rd place.

We're not quite where we want to be, but we're in good position to make a move.

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