New-look RiverHawks ready for 2012 debut



Wednesday morning at James Brown Arena came with its usual Augusta RiverHawks practice.

But the team that took the ice the first week of 2012 didn’t exactly resemble the one that skated off to end 2011.

Head coach Brad Ralph referred to the current squad as “Team II.”

“I told the guys, ‘Look around, this is it,’ ” head coach Brad Ralph said. “ ‘This is your opportunity. The guys that left might be back or they might not or there might not be room if they try to come back. It’s up to you.’ ”

A shakeup involving seven different players rearranged the RiverHawks roster this week after the team ended the 2011 portion of the schedule with four losses in five games.

The 2012 campaign begins tonight with a home game against the Huntsville Havoc.

Aaron McGill, the team’s top penalty minute producer, won’t be around after leaving Tuesday for the Central Hockey League.

Defensemen Nick Wheeler and Sean Stagles didn’t last the cuts Ralph made in the wake of the team’s worst losing skid this season.

Three of the team’s top scorers, Chris Doyle, Dustin Cloutier and Travis Dunstall, also left the team in December.

But Ralph brought in four newcomers this week hoping to give his team a boost in the second half of the season.

Tyler Howe, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound enforcer, forward Brendan Taylor and defenseman J.D. Gordon participated in practice Wednesday and will make their RiverHawks debut tonight.

Egor Mironov, a key contributor in last season’s run to the league finals, will also make his 2011-12 RiverHawks debut.

The 24-year-old forward played briefly in Italy this season but said tonight will be his first game in more than a month.

“It’s good to be back on the ice,” he said. “It’s hard to tell off the first skate, but I played last year with a lot of the guys here, like (Matt) Auffrey and (Neil) Graham, so it’s just a matter of finding a rhythm with those guys again.”

There won’t be much time for the newcomers to catch on. Tonight’s game marks the first of three in four days and six in 10. The RiverHawks enter tonight in a tie for first place in the Southern Professional Hockey League with rival Knoxville.

“We don’t really have the luxury of having time to find our chemistry at this point,” Ralph said after Wednesday’s practice.

“I really like the balance of our team now. I saw great energy out there, and I’m excited about this.”

Though the roster has changed, Ralph said the team’s systems and strategy won’t be altered drastically this week, aside from the usual game-to-game adjustments.

The RiverHawks (19-6-2) will play Huntsville (11-12-3) tonight and Fayetteville (7-17-2) Friday and Saturday. Augusta has won six of eight meetings between the two teams.

Knoxville (20-5-0) will also play three games this weekend.