Augusta hockey fans got their first look at a unique part of Southern Professional Hockey League play when the RiverHawks went into overtime Friday against visiting Fayetteville.
Unlike in other professional leagues, an SPHL overtime period consists of 3-on-3 hockey. The wide-open ice and almost constant breakaways kept the fans on edge and goalies alert. Players know they are one shot away from a win, but they also have to keep a defensive mind to avoid allowing any breakaways that could bring an instant loss.
"Especially against certain teams like Fayetteville," RiverHawks defenseman Jason Price said. "They like to fly guys. They don't hold themselves too accountable in the offensive zone at times. You're always trying to look for that guy that's flying, but you also want to create opportunities yourself. You've got to pick your spots."
The 3-on-3 hockey presented a chess match for RiverHawks coach Brad Ralph and Fayetteville's Tommy Stewart , who had to decide whether to make an offensive emphasis by putting two forwards on the ice or play conservatively with two defensemen.
"We've been working in practice and toying with different combinations of forward and defense," Ralph said. "I thought we found a little groove there and took it to them in overtime."
Ralph started the extra period with two defensemen, Price and Luke Lucyk , and Neil Graham as the lone forward. Graham scored 31/2 minutes in to give the RiverHawks their first win.
"It's a unique overtime. I think this is the only league that does it," Ralph said, "It's exciting. I like it in the fact that more games will be decided on 3-on-3 than shootout."
IMPROVING : The RiverHawks posted a season-high 46 shots on goal Saturday night against Knoxville, but Ice Bears rookie goalie Brian Hince made 44 saves to pick up his first professional win.
Augusta's 3-2 loss was a notch better than its 5-3 defeat to the Ice Bears a week earlier. Knoxville coach Mike Craigen said he was impressed with the amount of improvement he saw out of the RiverHawks.
"That's a good hockey team over there ... Like night and day from the last time we played them," he said. "Obviously, there won't be any easy wins in this building."
The two teams face each other again Thursday night at James Brown Arena.
GROWING : A new face joined the team Monday morning just in time for a short week of practice. Rookie defenseman Ed Snetsinger was signed after he was released from the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies.
He could help add a scorer's touch to the defensive zone.
"I'm a bit of an offensive defenseman," he said.
The 24-year-old University of Toronto product tallied 90 points in 79 games over the final three seasons of his college career.
OBSERVING : New general manager Mark Richards was in town last weekend to observe the RiverHawks as they split a pair of home games. He didn't officially start his new job until Monday, and he said Saturday he that he will evaluate the team's direction and efforts in several areas over the next few weeks.
Though previous general manager Gilles Richard had a hand in helping build the on-ice portion of the team, Richards said he will leave those duties up to Ralph.
"I talked to him about that," Richards said. "If (Ralph) needs some help with something, I will certainly try to get him what he's looking for. But that's his job. If he asks for it, I'll be more than happy to try to help."