An 0-3 start, small crowds and a front-office shake-up marked the return of minor league hockey to Augusta in October. Five months and plenty of goals later, the Augusta RiverHawks will play their final regular season game tonight with a much more positive outlook.
The first-year RiverHawks (35-20) beat Columbus, 4-3, on Friday night in overtime in front of an announced crowd of 2,391 to extend their Southern Professional Hockey League-leading winning streak to 11 games. Win No. 12 tonight in Fayetteville, N.C., coupled with a Mississippi loss, would give them the league's regular season championship.
"You can't ask for much more," RiverHawks owner Bob Kerzner said. "A rookie coach, a rookie organization -- it worked out extremely well."
First-year coach Brad Ralph was spared early in the season when Kerzner cut loose General Manager Gilles Richard and Managing Director Bill Coffey after meager crowds greeted the team. Ralph is now widely considered the favorite to earn the league's coach of the year award after navigating the expansion squad through more than a dozen call-ups, monthlong road trips and injuries to emerge as a postseason contender.