A roster shakeup to start the new year breathed life into an otherwise fledgling minor league hockey team. Augusta RiverHawks 2.0 took the ice for the first time, and the team’s new look didn’t disappoint in a 3-2 win over the Huntsville Havoc.
Three players left and four were added since the team lost four out of five to end 2011 on a sour note. Egor Mironov, who signed Wednesday, scored a goal and newcomers J.D. Gordon and Tyler Howe brought a new level of physical play that the team had been lacking.
Howe bloodied Sam Cannata in a lopsided fight in the second period, and Gordon’s second bruising check of the night earned him a game misconduct early.
“It felt like a different team out there,” head coach Brad Ralph said. “Just one player can make a difference. You’re not certain how a team’s going to mesh after something like this, but I was really pleased. The guys we brought in did exactly what I thought they could do.”
Augusta goalie Jon Olthuis, who lost two of his past three games, started the new year with a 24-save victory. He overcame his tendency of giving up early goals by shutting out Huntsville in a nine-shot first period. He also got just enough offensive support with three RiverHawks goals on only 19 shots.
“Guys are battling for jobs, and we’re getting hungry here,” defenseman Drew Baker said. “We’re trying to get back into a groove. We had a solid week of practice, and it’s feeling like we’re back on track.”
The RiverHawks (20-6-2) dominated the first period with a pair of goals started by defenseman Ed Snetsinger. His pass to Jim Gehring set up the first goal six minutes in, and a shot from the blue line late in the first was redirected by Jesse Echternach for another score.
Augusta took a brief 3-0 lead early in the second period when Neil Graham’s sharp pass through the crease hit Mironov in the knee.
The ricochet was enough to send the puck trickling over the goal line.
Huntsville’s first goal came with 76 seconds left in the second when Justin Fox’s pass ahead to Mike MacDonald was enough to beat Olthuis.
The Havoc pulled goalie Kevin Beech with a minute to play and the extra attacker paid off with a Ryan Kretzer goal to climb to within one.
But the RiverHawks defense held on for Augusta’s fifth win in six meetings with Huntsville this season.
The first-place RiverHawks reclaimed the outright lead from Knoxville in the Southern Professional Hockey League standings after the Mississippi Surge scored two goals in the final 95 seconds for a 6-5 road win over the Ice Bears.