Jon Olthuis had to fight to keep his head high after once again giving up an early lead. But the second-year goaltender shutout the Fayetteville FireAntz the rest of the way and finally got some offensive support in a 5-1 Augusta RiverHawks win.
The RiverHawks snapped a three-game losing streak with the win. Augusta’s first series of consecutive losses this season was enough to produce a change atop the Southern Professional Hockey League standings. Surging Knoxville took over first place by handing Augusta two of its three losses during the skid. The RiverHawks (19-6-1) finally found their footing after returning to James Brown Arena for their first home game in two weeks.
“It weighs on you,” head coach Brad Ralph said of the losing streak. “Because it means so much to us to play well and win hockey games. We had a slow start tonight, had a goal waved off and some penalties but it was good to finally see it come together. Jon made some huge saves, which really gave us some confidence.”
Olthuis, who was pulled halfway through his last start after giving up four goals on just 16 shots, stopped 26 of 27 shots on Friday. He gave up an early lead for the sixth consecutive time but pulled out his seventh win.
“I’m getting sick of getting scored on early,” Olthuis said. “But that’s when you’ve got to have a short memory and stay focused. It’s a matter of perseverance.”
The RiverHawks, who have the league’s top offense, struggled to score during the losing streak, but the power play unit provided most of the offense Friday night. Jim Gehring took a pass from Jesse Echternach in the first period, had his first shot blocked but drove home the rebound to tie the game 12 minutes in.
After a scoreless second period, newcomer Justin MacDonald, added to the team Thursday, fired a slapshot that somehow found its way through heavy traffic in front of the net to give the RiverHawks the lead three minutes into the third period.
The FireAntz (6-16-2) lost their fourth in a row despite taking a 1-1 score into the third period. Augusta scored four times in the third, including three goals in the final six minutes. Two came from forward Aaron McGill.
Fayetteville goalie Mike Brown allowed five goals on 35 shots.