Training camp hockey transitions into live preseason action tonight for the Augusta RiverHawks. The start to a second regular season isn’t far behind.
The RiverHawks will travel to Fayetteville, N.C., tonight for an exhibition game against the FireAntz. After watching a week’s worth of training camp practices and intrasquad scrimmages, Augusta coach Brad Ralph said the team’s first ice time against an actual opponent will help him finalize the roster.
“A couple of players are still fighting for those last spots,” he said. “So I’ll be interested to see how they play in a game-like structure. They’re going to be tested, and I’ll be looking to see how they respond to those tough situations.”
Physical play, including fights, hasn’t been seen much during this week’s training camp. That could change tonight. An exhibition game last year in Fayetteville resulted in a line brawl between the two teams.
“As far as I know, we’ve got a couple of players that like to be physical,” Ralph said. “It’s not easy to maybe fight your roommate or the guy that you’re driving to the rink with. So I’m expecting to see a little more of that on Saturday.”
Friday’s morning skate wrapped up with a training camp roster of 25, which Ralph said will be narrowed down to 20 this morning before the team hits the road.
Ralph and general manager Mark Richards have just five days before the regular season opens Thursday at James Brown Arena. But the reigning Southern Professional Hockey League coach of the year said the team is ahead of where it was last year at this time. The players can tell the difference.
“Definitely we have some chemistry already,” returning defenseman Curtis Megginson said. “The returning guys are close because we already had that team chemistry from last year, and the new guys are coming together. We didn’t have that last year right off the bat.”
Ralph said he’ll use tonight’s exhibition game as a stage for many of the players who are still fighting for a roster spot. More than a win, the goal is to find the right role players.
“At this point you’re starting to see if guys have first-line potential or if they’re more of a third-line player,” he said. “It’s what you want to see because you don’t want a bunch of first-line players.
“You’ve got to have a well balanced team. We’re getting close,” Ralph continued. “I think we’ve got balance, and that’s important to me as long as every one works hard and plays with character, which I’ve seen so far but that’s something you only see with time. Certainly roles are starting to be defined out here.”