FAYETTEVILLE, NC — The Fayetteville Marksmen organization wanted a winning start this weekend as they opened their home schedule with a pair of games against the Huntsville Havoc. While winning on the ice was indeed a goal, winning off the ice was also at the forefront of the minds of everybody involved with the new Marksmen hockey organization.
The weekend opened up with food trucks, a reveal of the new Zamboni® ice resurfacing machine, and plenty of orange, green and black all around the Crown Coliseum. The new era culminated with a ceremony before Saturday night’s game honoring the old ownership group of Fayetteville hockey. The FireAntz organization was one of the founding members of the SPHL, and a banner occupies the rafters at the Crown as a reminder to hockey fans who come to see the Marksmen play that hockey in the SPHL got its start with a different name.
The Marksmen organization respects the roots, and the banner raising gesture was a classy move to officially put to rest the FireAntz brand and begin the new era of the Marksmen.
New owner Chuck Norris had this to say when asked about the weekend,
“I think it was great. I think we had a lot of energy, a whole new kind of vibe going on around the arena.”
With all of the new happenings off the ice, the hockey being played on the ice was not to be overlooked.
After Friday night’s 6-3 loss to the Havoc, the Marksmen were hoping to rebound and get revenge on Saturday. Special teams play was the Achilles heel of the Marksmen Friday night as they allowed the Havoc to convert on 2-of-5 power play opportunities while failing to convert on any of their four chances. Marksmen goalie Matt Zenzola took the loss stopping 30 of 35 shots while Havoc goalie Keegan Asmundson stopped 29 of 32 shots in the victory.
The Saturday night rematch pitted Asmundson against the other half of the Marksmen’s goalie tandem in Peter Di Salvo. A fast, furious opening period saw both goalies come up big and keep the puck out of the net.
The middle period would be a different story as the special teams for the Marksmen came to life.
When asked what the most significant difference was between Friday night and Saturday night, Marksmen head coach Nick Mazzolini said, “Special teams…we made a few adjustments and they had to change up their power play again. It’s about getting better every night and learning how to make in-game adjustments.”
Veteran forward Kyle McNeil would open the scoring for the Marksmen Saturday night when he sent a rebound over the outstretched pad of Asmundson. This weekend was a homecoming of sorts for McNeil, who played in Fayetteville a few years back with a FireAntz jersey on his chest. After stints with both Huntsville and Knoxville, McNeil had this to say about playing in Fayetteville again,
“It’s like coming home to me. I thought a lot over the summer and it would mean a lot to come back to the city. I am happy I did.”
On the ice, McNeil certainly played like he was at home. After Marksmen captain Jake Hauswirth sent a one-timer into the back of the net on the power play, McNeil would tally his second goal of the night when he stuffed a puck under the Havoc goalie on the power play. By the time the game was over, the Marksmen had converted twice on six power-play chances. Di Salvo rejected 32 of the 34 Havoc shots. And the Marksmen had won the game 4-2, picking up an early-season signature win against a powerhouse like Huntsville.
Almost symbolic of the difference between the FireAntz and the Marksmen, the win on Saturday seemed to show the quick ability of the Marksmen team to learn from their mistakes and get better. The Marksmen organization hopes to do the same – learn from the mistakes of the FireAntz organization and get better.
With opening weekend behind us, there is some substantial evidence that the Marksmen organization is well on it’s way to doing just that. Attendance numbers over 3,000 each night, a significant improvement over the paltry attendance figures from last season. A thematic branded approach in all aspects of the organization, right down to the new eye-catching tank-designed Zamboni. And a fresh new look team and first-year head coach that seem primed to be more than just a hockey team for Fayetteville.
My verdict: The Marksmen won both on and off the ice this weekend.
- Jake Hauswirth has seven points in three games.
- Kyle McNeil has three goals in three games.
- Max Cook has six points in three games, all assists.
- Di Salvo has won both games in net for the Marksmen.