Trailing by three points with 12 games left in the season, Augusta RiverHawks coach Mark Richards wouldn’t call this week’s home-and-home against the Huntsville Havoc a make-or-break situation, but he acknowledged the importance of the two games.
“It’s critical,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s our entire season, but it’s very important we take care of business in our head-to-head meetings with them, and try to come out and get at least three out of four points.”
The RiverHawks are three points behind the Havoc for the eighth and final playoff spot in the SPHL. The two teams play in Augusta on Thursday before meeting in Huntsville on Friday. They meet for the final time March 8 at James Brown Arena.
Richards said the RiverHawks and Havoc are very similar teams, noting both are hard working and have team toughness, as well as strong goaltenders. Like the RiverHawks, the Havoc have had struggles scoring this season, averaging 2.34 goals per game compared to the RiverHawks’ 2.55.
“We certainly can’t give them opportunities on the power play,” Richards said. “That hurt us last time around. They’re almost a mirror image of us.”
Augusta is 2-3-1 against Huntsville this season, but the RiverHawks come in as the hotter team, currently 5-3 in February compared to the Havoc’s 2-6-1 this month.
“This is our year right here,” Augusta forward Dennis Sicard said. “We have to win these games and keep flowing with it. It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be tough.”
Not to be overlooked is a meeting with the Knoxville Ice Bears on Saturday, a game in which Augusta might have to dig deep and avoid fatigue following the two crucial Huntsville games. The Ice Bears are in fourth place, seven points out of first.
“It’s going to be a fun weekend for everybody,” Richards said. “If you’re not ready for these games, you shouldn’t be playing.”
TRADE: The RiverHawks acquired forward Paul Lee from the Mississippi RiverKings on Monday in exchange for defenseman Ricky Helmbrecht.
Lee, a 23-year-old from New York, played four years at Dartmouth College. In his first pro season this year, he has combined for 12 games in the ECHL and four with Mississippi, scoring his first and only goal Jan. 11.
Goalie Robert Moss, defenseman Drew Baker and forward Myles McCauley were loaned to the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors for Sunday’s game. Moss sat in as a backup goalie, while Baker and McCauley saw action. All three returned to Augusta’s roster for Monday’s practice.
Augusta secured its backup goalie spot with the signing of Brandon Foote on Friday. Richards got his first look at Foote in Monday’s practice and said he could get a start in one of the three games this week.