Augusta RiverHawks coach Brad Ralph has experimented with various lines throughout the season. The one he came up with while his team was on their longest stretch of road games this season has turned out to be a keeper.
Captain Matt Auffrey, Branden Kosolofsky and newly acquired rookie Travis Dunstall made up a highlight-producing line that wowed the announced crowd of 2,897 at James Brown Arena. Dunstall scored a goal for the fifth consecutive game, and the RiverHawks extended their win streak to five in a 5-1 victory over Columbus.
"We're all creative guys," Dunstall said of his new linemates. "It's fun. They're good guys to play with."
The 21-year-old rookie and reigning Southern Professonal Hockey League player of the week has scored in all but one of the six games he's played for the RiverHawks since signing with the team Jan. 18. Friday night's game was his first in Augusta as the RiverHawks returned home from a stretch of seven consecutive road games that lasted nearly a month.
The RiverHawks, greeted by the second-largest crowd at James Brown Arena this season, wasted little time back on their home ice. Jason Price scored his ninth goal of the season 88 seconds in, and fellow defenseman Luke Lucyk scored his fourth goal when his shot from the blue line found its way through traffic created by Auffrey, Dunstall and Kosolofsky for a 2-1 lead late in the first period.
Price also picked up an assist early in the second period on a long pass to Egor Mironov, and Dunstall added his goal for a 4-1 advantage midway through the second period after Kosolofsky found Auffrey cutting to the net. Auffrey's shot was stopped, but Dunstall trailed for a rebound and score.
Goalie Jon Olthuis made 15 saves in his return to Augusta after completing a three-week stint in the Central Hockey League. Columbus' 16 shots were the fewest the Augusta defense has allowed this season.
"I feel like when our defense is playing well it gets our whole team going," Ralph said. "This was one of our best defensive games."
The five consecutive wins give Augusta the longest active winning streak in the league.
The RiverHawks (21-17) have won six of their eight meetings with the Cottonmouths.