FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. --- If the Fayetteville FireAntz thought a win in Thursday night's season opener against Augusta would come as effortlessly as a pair of exhibition routs, they were badly mistaken.
The expansion RiverHawks, the only off-season addition to the Southern Professional Hockey League, took an early 1-0 lead courtesy of Lucas Labelle. But a pair of goals by rookie Cody Zubko and stellar goaltending by Adam Avramenko were enough for the FireAntz to earn a 2-1 victory.
"To start the season off with a win is huge. The team can build off of that," Zubko said. "Maybe we didn't play as good as we should have, but we got the win and it's a starting point."
A crowd of 2,796 had to wait an additional 20 minutes for the 2010-11 SPHL season to get under way. Most of the fans were already inside Crown Coliseum before the arrival of the RiverHawks, who were delayed because of bus trouble near Columbia, coach Brad Ralph said.
The hold-up didn't seem to faze the RiverHawks, who had a chance to take an early 2-0 lead. Matt Auffrey was turned away by Avramenko on a penalty shot just 98 seconds in, but less than three minutes later, Labelle had scored the first regular-season goal in franchise history. He and Luke Lucyk broke through the middle of the Antz defense, and Labelle buried the feed at 5:20.
"I was a little shaky at the start, I guess, and throughout the game I had a little trouble controlling rebounds," Avramenko said. "(Augusta) looked like a different team than they had last week, but we hung in there and got the two points."
Zubko didn't wait long to match Labelle's goal, rifling a rebound between Jordan McLaughlin's knees from the top of the left circle at 8:57. He scored again at 8:05 of the second period on the power play. Zubko scored twice in the exhibition games against the RiverHawks last weekend.
Though the RiverHawks didn't come away with any points in their franchise's official debut, they made a good impression on their coach.
"We played hard. (Fayetteville) buried their power-play opportunity, but I thought our guys played well and the effort was there," Ralph said. "I thought we outplayed them. I thought we controlled the majority of the game and I thought we deserved a better fate."