With seven wins in 10 games and a steady climb up the Southern Professional Hockey League standings, the month of February was a positive one for the Augusta RiverHawks. Confirmation came from the league office Monday when team captain Matt Auffrey was named SPHL player of the month.
The 25-year-old forward, who has been a leader on the team in his sixth pro season, tallied seven goals and eight assists in 10 games last month.
His unassisted short-handed goal in Saturday's 2-0 win in Mississippi lifted the RiverHawks into sole possession of second place with eight regular-season games remaining.
"He's been solid all year," coach Brad Ralph said. "Once (linemate) Travis Dunstall came into the picture, I think it opened things up for Matt. He's been very consistent and responsible on both ends of the ice."
Auffrey, the only player to have skated for both the Augusta Lynx and RiverHawks, leads the league with a plus-minus rating of plus-20.
He said the award could have gone to either of his linemates and was more of a reflection of the team's overall success in February.
"We just played hard and kind of figured out some of the mistakes we were making in January," Auffrey said. "I think we were playing hard but not playing smart there, and we figured out how to fix that."
Auffrey's 41 assists rank second in the league, and his 59 points put him in a tie for fourth.
WIN AND YOU'RE IN : The RiverHawks play tonight in Fayetteville, and a win would give the first-year expansion team a guaranteed spot in the postseason.
But the possibility of a franchise first wasn't on Ralph's mind Monday. The rookie coach has higher aspirations than just a first-round appearance.
"I'm worried about getting home-ice advantage and making sure our team is peaking at the right time," he said.
The RiverHawks, who sit six points behind first-place Mississippi and two points ahead of third-place Huntsville, need to remain in the top three to get home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Columbus and Pensacola are tied for fourth, just four points behind Augusta.
With a win tonight, the RiverHawks would become the second team in the league to lock up a postseason bid.
FOR THE WYNN : Ralph said Monday afternoon that rookie Keith Wynn has signed with the team, giving Augusta the left-handed defenseman Ralph had been searching for.
The 24-year-old Canadian was wrapping up his fourth season with St. Thomas University before he signed with the RiverHawks.
Ralph also said goalie Adam Avramenko and forward Jason Weeks have been released. Both players had been loaned to teams in higher leagues, and their release from the Augusta roster will allow them to sign with another team in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
BEATING THE BEST : Augusta's only game last weekend ended in a 40-save shutout for goalie Jon Olthuis .
His second professional shutout came against a Mississippi squad with the best overall record in the league and an average of a little more than 3.7 goals per game.
"He played well," Ralph said. "He had a really good third period."
A go-ahead goal from Jim Ghering and Auffrey's short-handed goal gave Olthuis enough offense for Augusta's fourth consecutive victory.
AWARDS COMING : The league office sent out its season awards ballot last week to the league's eight head coaches and select members of the media.
Voters will decide the league's most valuable player, goalie of the year, defensemen of the year, rookie of the year and coach of the year.
First and second All-SPHL teams, each made up of three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie, will also be chosen, along with an All-Rookie Team.
HAWK TALK : The weekly coach's show held Tuesday nights at Somewhere in Augusta Sports Bar & Grill, has been canceled this week because of the team's road game tonight in Fayetteville. The show will return next week with live interviews featuring Ralph and two players.