One last road trip and a return home for a rare Monday morning practice wrapped up the Augusta RiverHawks’ regular season. The Southern Professional Hockey League playoffs begin this week, and the RiverHawks will enter the postseason as the league’s top seed.
Head coach Brad Ralph said the team played “arguably our worst game of the year” last Friday in a defeat to Knoxville. Another loss - but better effort, Ralph said - came at the hands of Columbus to complete the regular season.
“We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” Ralph said. “We wanted to make sure we were going into the playoffs with the right attitude and the right work ethic and playing as well as we can. You’re not going to win every game, but certainly we were all pleased with our effort, especially in a game that meant little in terms of the standings.”
The game was meaningless for the RiverHawks, who clinched the league’s top seed two weeks ago, but meant much more to the Cottonmouths, who needed a win to clinch the No. 2 seed. Columbus beat out Knoxville for second place on the final day of the regular season.
EXTRA WORK: The team gathered at James Brown Arena Monday for an on-ice practice in preparation for Game 1 of their best-of-three, first-round match up with Huntsville on Wednesday night. Though the RiverHawks’ first-round opponent has been set for almost two weeks, the Havoc are still a relatively unknown foe.
Huntsville has underdone sweeping changes since last playing Augusta.
“We haven’t seen them since Jan. 28. They’ve got a new coach,” Ralph said. “We really don’t know what to expect. So the focus here this week is on our team, making sure we’re working hard on all cylinders and if we have to adapt at all I think our systems are adaptable to whatever we might see.”
Randy Murphy stepped down as Huntsville’s head coach earlier this month under pressure from the team’s owner. A player, Glenn Detulleo, immediately retired and was hired on as interim head coach. The team split its remaining six games under the new leadership.
RiverHawks forward Neil Graham said his team has decided to focus on improving their own game instead of concentrating on Huntsville’s strengths and weaknesses.
“Anything can happen, and that’s why we have to go in playing our style of hockey,” Graham said. “I’m not so much worried about them as I am worried about what we have to do.”
Ralph said Huntsville will arrive in Augusta today to prepare for Wednesday’s series opener.
AWARDS BEGIN: The SPHL released its All-Rookie Team on Monday, and the RiverHawks were not represented on the six-man squad.
Forwards Jordan Chong (Pensacola), Brayden Metz (Louisiana) and Greg Beller (Columbus), defensemen Andrew Krelove (Columbus) and James Isaacs (Mississippi Surge) and goalie Kiefer Smiley (Mississippi Surge) made the team, which was compiled by votes from the league’s head coaches, front office staff and media.
Beller played one game for Augusta early in the season before he was released. He signed with Columbus a week later.
The league will release All-SPHL First and Second Teams today, defenseman of the year Wednesday and rookie of the year Thursday.
ROSTER TWEAK: Augusta signed Ken Trentowski to a three-game tryout last weekend, and Ralph needed just one game to lock the big defenseman into a longer deal. Trentowski was put on the team’s postseason roster Monday afternoon.
Forward Jesse Echternach was left off the roster.