Aaron McGill will soon be back in an Augusta RiverHawks jersey.
The physical forward with a bad-boy reputation returned to the roster Monday and will be on the ice for tonight’s road game against the Mississippi Surge, coach Brad Ralph said.
To make room, Ralph made a bit of a surprising move by releasing forward Lucas Labelle, a second-year RiverHawk who recently returned from the ECHL.
“We can only have 18 players on the roster,” Ralph said. “It was a very tough decision. I just felt with our third line I wanted a little more size and speed.”
McGill led the SPHL in penalty minutes before leaving Augusta in early January to play for the Allen Americans of the Central Hockey League. He recorded three assists and 41 penalty minutes in seven games before he was injured in late January and released. Ralph said McGill has recovered and is “ready to go.”
Labelle left the RiverHawks earlier this season to play in a higher league, signing with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, but came back three weeks ago. He had managed just one goal in seven games since his return.
Augusta also signed defenseman Chris Wiggin, who was playing with the team on a three-game tryout, and released defenseman John Kearnes.
REVISED ROLE: McGill’s return will add toughness to the lineup, but the team wasn’t exactly lacking a physical presence in his absence. Forward Kyle Watson and defensemen Drew Baker and Tyler Howe, among others, have taken their turns with enforcer roles.
Ralph said McGill won’t just be a fighter.
“We’ve got a tough enough team already,” Ralph said. “I was looking for his size and strength and willingness to go to the net.”
McGill had started to emerge as more than a fighter and instigator before he left for the CHL. The second-year RiverHawk scored four goals in his last six games with Augusta.
PLAYOFF SCENARIOS: A full weekend of SPHL action clarified the postseason picture. A new playoff format will allow eight of the league’s nine teams to reach the postseason, and the Fayetteville FireAntz (16-31-5) were eliminated over the weekend.
With two weeks left in the regular season, the first-place RiverHawks (34-11-6) can do no worse than third place and are more likely to wrap up the top seed this week.
The RiverHawks have road games in Mississippi tonight and Friday and a home game Saturday. Five points would give the RiverHawks the regular season championship regardless of how second-place Knoxville and third-place Columbus perform.
Road wins tonight and Friday combined with a single Knoxville loss Thursday or Friday would also
clinch Augusta’s first regular season title.
Ralph said the team’s momentum and chemistry are where he wants them to be.
“The guys are working extremely hard right now, and the more we play the better we get,” he said. “I definitely like the direction we’re moving. We’re in the playoff mindset.”
LITERAL HAVOC: Though the standings could shift in the final two weeks, the RiverHawks will likely face the Huntsville Havoc in the first round of the SPHL playoffs.
The eighth-place Havoc (20-27-5) have lost five of their past six games and 10 of their past 12. The downward spiral, which hit a low point last week when Huntsville blew a three-goal third-period lead and lost 6-4 to Louisiana, was enough to force Randy Murphy out as head coach.
Havoc owner Keith Jeffries asked Murphy to step down but kept him with the team as a director of operations. Forward Glenn Detulleo retired after Thursday’s game to become the interim coach.
“I honestly and truly believe (the decision) is the best chance for the team to play up to its potential,” Jeffries told The Huntsville Times. “Randy’s a friend, and being the professional he is, he was willing to step down and make it happen.”
BRING THE GREEN: The RiverHawks will play their second-to-last home game of the regular season Saturday and will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by wearing specially designed jerseys that will be auctioned off after the game. Proceeds of the auction will benefit the Vision Discovery Institute at Georgia Health Sciences University.