Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happy Holidays

We entered the month of December on a bit of a downward trend. We had lost 2 games in a row, and lost 2 players to injury in the span of a couple of weeks. To make matters worse, Levi Lind got called up to Rapid City of the CHL. To fill the void, Jerome "enlisted" some special help. He combed the ranks of the Columbus Hockey Association's adult league for a player who might help us out for a few games.  The success of Zach McKelvie, a Ft. Benning officer who went from the Columbus Adult Hockey League to the Boston Bruins training camp, gave us hope that there might be another good hockey player assigned to the Columbus area. Our search uncovered Captain Ken Porter, a West Point graduate who played for the Black Knights hockey team while at the USMA. Upon his assignment to Fort Benning, he signed up this season to play hockey in the CHA adult league (which is apparently becoming quite a talent pool for professional hockey players). Having been spotted by our own Matt "Shooter" DePuydt, Ken rose to the top of our list of potential loaner players. Jerome quickly recruited him to fill in for us, and we had another healthy body in the lineup.

Captain Ken (or "Sarge" as some of the guys call him, no offense intended) wasted no time making his mark, scoring what would turn out to be the winning goal in his first game with the Snakes. Sam Bowles would add an empty-net goal to secure a 2-0 win. It was an ending straight out of Hollywood.

There was a scary moment in the first period (the kind we've seen too many of this season) when Ice Flyers forward Mike Carter took a hard check from Snakes defenseman Kevin Kessler. As Carter fell to the ice, Kessler fell over him and accidentally kicked him in the face with his skate. It happened about 10 feet from where I stand on the bench and I saw it clearly. It was a clean hit, but Carter was out on his feet. He fell straight to the ice and made no attempt to put his arms out to protect himself from the fall. During the fall, Carter's helmet rode up on his head and exposed his face to the impact of Kessler's skate. It was a horrific accident. I immediately signalled for Pensacola's trainer, Lacey Toth, to get out to help him. You know it's a serious injury when opposing players on the ice signal for the trainer. Lacey and Hannah both made their way out to Carter and began administering first aid. Then the EMTs came out and carried Carter off to continue his treatment. There was a large pool of blood where Carter had fallen and it took a few moments to scrape up all of it. No matter how many times I see injuries like this, it's still a little unsettling every time.

After the injury, Referee Paul Maciejewski called a penalty against Kessler for Checking From Behind. It was a bad call. He hit him shoulder-to-chest. He kept his elbows tucked in. He didn't leave his feet (until after the impact, when he stumbled over Carter's prone body). It was a perfectly clean check, but the height difference between Kessler and Carter resulted in Kessler's shoulder riding up into Carter's jaw and chin area. It was an unfortunate accident, but it shouldn't have been a penalty. Nevertheless, the Snakes killed off the penalty without giving up a goal. Carter left the game and didn't return. Aside from the large gash over his left eye, I'm pretty sure he was concussed. I spoke to him after the game and he didn't remember most of what had happened. All things considered, the injury could have been worse. I guess he can be thankful that it wasn't.

The next night, we hosted the Mississippi Surge. Despite a lackluster first period, the Snakes took a lead on a Jesse Cole goal late in the frame. The Surge went to work in the second, outscoring us 3-1 to enter the third period with a 3-2 lead. John Sullivan scored early in the third to tie the game, but Rob Campbell scored a late goal to ice the 4-3 victory for the Surge.

The following Friday found us in Huntsville to play the Havoc. After a scoreless first period, Huntsville went on the offensive in the second, unleashing a barrage of 18 shots. Snakes goalie Andrew Loewen managed to stop all but 2 of them, while the Snakes scored 2 goals on their 8 shots in the frame.

Something happened in the second period that I had never seen before. Mitch Wall had been playing with an injury to his right hand, which required his hand to be splinted. According to league rules, if he fights with tape below his wrist and causes an injury (e.g. if he cuts his opponent) he will be thrown out of the game and possibly suspended. So, needless to say, Wally has been told not to fight. The problem with that is that he has a reputation as a tough guy which, along with his style of play, leads him to a lot of situations where he gets asked to fight. This game was one of those. Havoc tough guy Sam Cannata challenged Wally to a fight and Wally responded. I panicked when I saw his glove hit the ice...but then I realized that it was only one glove. He kept the right glove on and just used his right hand to grab onto Cannata's jersey while bombarding him with lefts. He simply overpowered Cannata with a flurry of punches and beat him down to the ice. When the linesmen pulled Wally off of Cannata, he still had his right glove on so the ref never saw that his hand was taped. So he had basically fought Cannata with one hand and beat him bloody. In 18 years of pro hockey, I have never seen a guy do that. And he would do it again before the night was over, in the third period against Havoc heavyweight Gabriel Boutin-Gagnon (who may have the best name in the league).

Despite being outshot 24-13 through 2 periods, the Snakes entered the third tied at 2-2. The Snakes scored the only 3 goals of the period to win 5-2.

On Saturday we were back home for a meeting with the Mississippi Surge. Snakes goalie Ian Vigier was called on to hold the fort early and often, holding the Surge scoreless despite facing 19 shots on goal in the frame. Cottonmouths forwards Jesse Cole and Orrin Hergott scored on 2 of the Snakes' 11 shots for a 2-0 lead after one. The Surge battled back in the second and entered the third period down 3-2. Hergott and Jordan Braid added goals in the third to close out the Snakes' second consecutive 5-2 victory.

The following weekend we took our show back on the road. The trip started with a day trip to Pensacola on Friday. We've had trouble beating the Ice Flyers this season, and this game was no exception. They're a hard-working team and just keep coming at you. They pressure you until you make a mistake and then they capitalize on that mistake. It's not as easy as it sounds, but they make it appear that way sometimes. This was one of those nights. We managed 27 shots on goal, but couldn't sustain much offensive pressure and didn't generate many really good scoring opportunities. Pensacola put up 30 shots, with 3 of those finding the back of the net. There wasn't much to talk about in this game, except for Daniel Amesbury. He fought three times in the game (including once after the final buzzer), but the main event was his fight with Adam Kuhn. Kuhn is not much to look at. He's on the small side for a fighter, but he seems willing to go with anybody. This wasn't his first fight with Amesbury, but it was his most memorable. Danny laid a beating on that poor kid. I'm surprised he was able to get up. And not only did he get up, he made airplane wings with his arms and "flew" over to the penalty box, sending the P-Cola crowd into a frenzy. I think they cheered more loudly for his flight to the box than they had for his goal earlier. Say what you will about the kid, but he knows his role on this team and has apparently embraced it. He's got guts. I'll say that for him.

After the game we got to experience a piece of minor-league life. We had been alerted that we wouldn't be able to move into the locker room in Biloxi until Saturday morning because of a concert on Friday night. Unfortunately, we wouldn't be able to hang our gear in Pensacola because they were having graduation ceremonies the next day and started their changeover right after our game. So, we were left without a place to dry out our equipment for the next day's games. The solution...we called the hotel where we had booked our accommodations for the night and asked if there was a room we could use to lay out our gear to dry. It wasn't ideal, but it was better than leaving the gear in the bags and wearing wet gear the next day. Working in minor-league hockey I've had to deal with this situation before. Usually, it ends up being a conference room or banquet room, and you can spread the gear out and hang it over the backs of chairs. Then you turn on a couple of fans to circulate the air around the room, turn up the heat if you can, and hope for the best. In this hotel, all that they had available was a regular room. It was a single, with a King-sized bed. We cranked up the heat in the room, turned on our fans to help circulate the air, then spread our gear out the best we could to allow it to dry out. After 12 hours, we packed up the gear and loaded the bus to head for Biloxi. I'd hate to have been the next person to rent that room.

We arrived in Biloxi on time, contrary to appearances. We were outshot 14-7 in the first period, and outscored 2-0 during that span. We came to life in the 2nd, outshooting them 14-13. After a scoreless 2nd period, we outshot them 10-6 in the third and tied the game at 2-2 on goals by Mitch Wall and Sam Bowles in the 3rd. It didn't take long for Sam to end the overtime, scoring just 25 seconds into the extra frame.

We stumbled into the holiday week, dropping the Thursday night game to Fayetteville despite a 2-goal effort from Daniel Amesbury and a 42-23 shooting advantage for the Snakes. We followed that up with a 5-1 loss in Pensacola, despite outshooting them 36-23.

We were off on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but had to board the bus on Boxing Day to head up to Fayetteville for a game. It started out as a typical road trip. We left in the morning and stopped for lunch along the way. After lunch, we boarded the bus for the remainder of the trip. As we got moving, we knew something was wrong. We crept along in 1st gear, unable to up-shift into 2nd. Tex tried several things to "goose" the bus into 2nd gear, to no avail. He finally gave up and pulled the bus off the highway. Jerome got on the horn and started working on finding a mechanic nearby who could come and help us. As it turned out, the problem wasn't something we could quickly fix so we had to move on to Plan B. Jerome found a nearby bus charter service and made a deal to get us picked up by a new coach bus. While not an ideal replacement for our nice sleeper bus, it was the best solution available. We unloaded our gear from the trailer and got off the bus to wait for our new ride and to allow the tow truck to haul the bus away. We finally  boarded the replacement bus at about the time we would have normally arrived in Fayetteville. We arrived at the Crown Coliseum and scrambled to unload the bus and get dressed for the game. The Fireantz were already warming up when we finally took the ice. After a 10-minute warmup period, we skipped the usual intermission and went straight into the game. The bus legs weren't a factor as we outshot the Fireantz 13-6 and jumped out to a 3-0 lead. We added 2 more in the 2nd for a 5-0 lead before the Antz finally got on the board late in the frame. They added 2 more in the third before Greg Beller drove the final nail in their coffin with an empty-net goal at 17:59 of the 3rd period. Beller marked his return from the Injured Reserve list with a 3-point night. Welcome back, Bellsy! We boarded the coach bus for the trip home to play Fayetteville again in Columbus.

We cruised to an easy victory. Derek Pallardy scored less than 2 minutes into the game and the Snakes never looked back. Greg Beller added a goal early in the 3rd, and another a few minutes later while Ian Vigier turned away all 19 shots he faced. It was probably the easiest game we had all year.

Heading into the New Year's holiday weekend we hosted the Knoxville IceBears. After a goal by Mike Towns gave the IceBears a 1-0 lead in the first, Sammy Bowles went to work. He scored a short-handed goal midway through the 2nd and a power-play goal early in the 3rd to give the Snakes a 2-1 lead. IceBears forward Jason Ford tied the game midway through the final frame to force overtime. After a scoreless OT period we went to the shootout. Emery Olauson scored in the sudden-death portion of the shootout to secure the victory for the IceBears.

We boarded the coach bus again for the trip to Augusta to close out 2011. Scorin' Orrin Hergott scored just 1:46 into the game to give the Snakes a lead, but the Riverhawks responded with 2 of their own goals to take a 2-1 lead. Daniel Amesbury and Orrin scored in the 2nd period to give the Snakes a 3-2 lead that we would hold until the final minute of the 3rd.  At 19:43 Neal Graham scored with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker to force overtime.

During the overtime period, the notoriously bad ice in Augusta made things pretty interesting. An Augusta defenseman, attempting to move the puck out of his own zone, fanned on the puck and lost it to Derek Pallardy, sending him all alone on a breakaway. The same ice that gave him the opportunity then took it away as he tried to make a move and the puck stuck on the ice, forcing Pally to overskate it. On the ensuing play, the other Riverhawks defenseman picked up the puck and tried to move it up ice. Again, the puck stuck to the ice and the d-man overskated. Pally picked up the loose puck again and walked in on another clean breakaway. Once again, the bad ice took the puck away from Pally and saved Riverhawks' goalie Jon Olthuis. Pally finally managed to hold onto the puck long enough to slip it past Olthuis for the win at 2:03 of the overtime period. We closed out the year 2011 with a big road victory in a building in which we couldn't buy a win last season. We finished the month of December with a 7-4-1 record, 8 points behind 2nd place Knoxville.