With three quality goalies on the roster, Augusta RiverHawks coach Brad Ralph faced a difficult decision before last week’s big showdown with second-place Knoxville.
Ralph pulled the trigger on a trade that sent the Southern Professional Hockey League’s top rookie goalie, B.J. O’Brien, to the Louisiana Ice Gators in exchange for cash, while veterans Peter Skoggard and Jon Olthuis remained with Augusta.
Olthuis stumbled in his first chance to prove Ralph right by giving up four goals on 16 shots in a 5-3 loss to Knoxville last week.
As the RiverHawks head into a four-game week, Ralph said he is standing by the trade.
“It was tough to make that decision, but at the same time it was easy,” he said. “I talked to the leadership on the team and we decided Jon’s our guy. … He hasn’t played the best hockey since he got back this year, but he’s the hardest worker on the team and he’s a character guy. That’s the biggest factor of why he’s still here.”
Olthuis, who led the league in wins a year ago, has allowed almost 3 1/2 goals per game since returning to Augusta in November. Ralph said part of his decision to keep the 26-year-old goalie came out of his performance last season.
“He was the foundation of our success last year,” Ralph said.
O’Brien, who went 5-1-2 with the RiverHawks, has two losses on six goals allowed in two starts with Louisiana.
HARD KNOX: Second-place Knoxville beat first-place Augusta on Thursday for the third time this season. Each RiverHawks loss has come with poor goaltending. Ralph pulled Olthuis halfway through last week’s loss, but the damage was done.
“Our goaltending hasn’t been great (against Knoxville). That’s one of the reasons,” Ralph said. “I thought that some of our key guys didn’t show up to play, and that’s all it takes sometimes. I’m still confident. ”
An opportunity for revenge will come this week when the RiverHawks travel to Knoxville on Thursday night. The Ice Bears are undefeated at home this season with a 10-0-0 mark.
TODAY’S GAME: The RiverHawks will begin a busy week with a road trip to Mississippi today. Augusta has seen plenty of success against the defending league champion Surge this season, winning all three meetings.
Mississippi entered Monday night’s game in Louisiana 20 points behind Augusta in the league standings.
LOAN AND REPLACE: Rookie forward Dustin Cloutier left the team last week to play for Kalamazoo in the ECHL. The right winger led Augusta with 33 points and a plus-18 plus/minus rating.
Ralph signed forward Tyler Fernandez, and the 23-year-old forward chipped in with an assist in his first game Thursday night.
WEEKEND WORK: The RiverHawks will play at home Friday and Saturday, with games against the Fayetteville FireAntz and Columbus Cottonmouths. Saturday’s New Year’s Eve game will have a special start time of 4:35 p.m.