The Peoria Rivermen came into Columbus this weekend, on a three-game bender with the Huntsville Havoc on Thursday, then the Snakes on Friday and Saturday.
Friday night saw the Snakes up two to nothing in the first period, with Andy Bathgate scoring a power-play goal at 9:50, with help from Ben Bauer and Rusty Hafner. Not to be outdone, Hafner scored at 15:36 with an assist from Bathgate.
Staying in the first period; Spencer Galbraith and Dakota Klecha went to the mattresses, and literally seconds later, Craig Simchuk joined Galbraith in the bin for roughing, with Dan Bremner receiving a double minor for roughing as well. It certainly seemed like that whole line for both teams was involved in a little push and shove, with only the goalies staying put. Dave Pszenyczny was given a match penalty and two for high-sticking, intent-to-injure on Chad Brears, thirty seconds later. But it was Galbraith who was back in the box for interference again later in the period at 18:33.
The second and third periods all belonged to the Rivermen who came out in fighting form with two goals just four minutes apart. It didn’t matter what the Snakes tried to do, they just fell flat; maybe gripping their sticks too tight or not playing the simple game that they play on the road… there are just too many things that weren’t going right.
The penalty box was busy as well, with Jonathan Turk in for two, then Spencer Galbraith, again for tripping. Both Vadim Guskov and Alec Hagaman dueled it out with their fists and sat for five. Ben Oskroba went in for two, and, Cody Castro gave the crowd a show as Alec Hagaman must have needed a rematch after the period ended. So opening the third saw both gentlemen in the box for five.
The third period saw a full strength goal and an empty netter for Peoria. With a final score of 4-2, the Snakes left the building looking to Saturday for a win. While Peoria was looking forward to taking another win from Columbus.
Saturday saw the Snakes in special jerseys for Super Mario night in the Snake Pit.
Adam Stuart was suspended for this game for hitting Chad Brears from behind last night. Brears was out this game and put on 14 day IR. Spencer Galbraith was also out this game due to injury from last night as well. Snakes Captain, Kyle Johnson and defenseman Petr Senkerik are both out with injury. Emergency back-up goalie, Andrew Loewen was on the bench to backup Jaeger. To help plug the holes in the team, forward, Vadim Guskov, and veteran defenseman, Levi Lind, were both signed to contracts. Alex Pompeo is still on loan to the ECHL in Virginia, and Lukas Hafner to Alaska.
While Friday was a more physical game with hard hits, Saturday brought out not only the intensity of each team but a more finesse game if you will. Yes, there were hits, but there weren’t any fights and the really hard, bone-crunching hits of the previous night.
With end-to-end play throughout the period, Evan Neugold bested netminder Tyler Green with help from Ben O’Quinn and Vadim Guskov at 15:59 in the first period. Amazingly enough, the only penalty saw Keegan Bruce in the bin for two minutes.
The second period saw no scoring and only two minutes in penalties from each team. That leaves only the third period where Dakota Klecha with help from Terrence Wallin scored at 17:27.
With neither Brandon Jaeger nor Tyler Green giving anything for the last few minutes, the game was sent to overtime.
While the goaltenders switched sides, the clock was set.
Right out of the gate, the Snakes were in the Rivermen zone with a few good chances, but then the Rivermen had a chance to get the puck in the Columbus zone, but couldn’t capitalize. Jaeger swept the puck to the neutral ice, which gave both teams time to switch up to get fresh legs on the ice.
Columbus raced into the Rivermen’s defensive zone, one of their players went down and at 0:54, Keegan Bruce scored with help from alternate captains Andy Bathgate, and Craig Simchuk.
With the Snakes’ first home win, the atmosphere was absolutely electric. I found Coach Bechard, wrought with happy emotion in the hallway by the locker rooms talking to family, friends, and some of the staff. The players had celebratory music pumping through the speakers in the locker room, that you could hear in the hallway. This celebration was well overdue.
“We killed all the penalties and we are a better team for it. But you have to give Peoria credit. I mean they just kept coming and coming and coming. They have very set plays and they are very disciplined,” Coach Bechard said. “Last night we played well. We had a couple breakdowns that cost us goals. Yes, we made mistakes, but we didn’t have major breakdowns that allowed them the easy stuff. We corrected that, but I just can’t say enough that while we’ve been playing shorthanded the last couple games. You know what? finally, we got something to show for it.”
In response to Peoria’s goal… “Peoria is pretty deliberate. That wasn’t a set play, it was a turn and shoot and we had traffic in front of the net. We have to learn from that as well. We can do the same thing. We did that a couple times and we had some opportunities. That one just came and it went in. That’s the way it goes.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Bechard said, about the win with a huge smile. “It’s not so much about me, but about the guys. They got the monkey off their back and hopefully we can take this forward.”
“I think most guys are pretty upset on the outcome last night. They definitely wanted revenge. We know we can play with them. We are so close to being a good hockey team. The thing is just the pressure and the frustration is building up, holding the stick a little too tight…trying a little too hard at times,” forward Craig Simchuk said, comparing the previous night’s game to tonight. “Tonight will really help. Kind of relieve the pressure, get the monkey off the back.”
“Everyone knows what it takes to win. Everyone wants the same thing. I think this was a group effort. We just put a win together. We were definitely second guessing ourselves when they scored late in the third…we battled through it, took it to overtime and came out on top,” Simchuk explained.
“Huge. It’s a relief. It feels very good,” Simchuk smiled, breathing a sigh of relief himself while explaining the emotion of the win. “Especially on a Saturday night. We had a good crowd. Our biggest crowd so far this year (3019).”
Up next for the Snakes is an away game to Evansville on December 9th, to face the Evansville Thunderbolts for the first time this season. December 16th will see the Snakes back in the Snake Pit against Macon at 7:30, just to turn around and go to Macon the following night.
Get in touch with Dawne Walters on Twitter at @SinBinSnakes.