A six-game winning streak would have been enough for the Augusta RiverHawks to claim the title of hottest team in the Southern Professional Hockey League. But the way they claimed win No. 6 further caught the attention of the league's more established teams.
The RiverHawks set the league's season scoring high in a 10-3 blowout over Louisiana on Saturday night. The win completed a 2-0 weekend in Augusta and lifted the team to within four points of first-place Mississippi.
The recent surge, which has seen the RiverHawks average 5.7 goals per game and score at least once in 15 of 18 periods, has lifted the team far above the expectations of a team in its first season.
"I'm getting my butt busted by the other owners in the league," RiverHawks owner Bob Kerzner said before the weekend games. "They're all saying, 'Hey, what are you doing? You're an expansion team. You're not supposed to be up there in the rankings.' "
Saturday's win put the RiverHawks into a tie for third place with Huntsville at 44 points. Only Mississippi (48) and Pensacola (46) stand in Augusta's way.
Coach Brad Ralph said his team still has room to improve.
"I still think we can get better in certain situations," he said. "We've got a game Tuesday and three this weekend, so it's going to be a tough week, no doubt about it. Things have gone great, but you're only as good as your last game."
SAVE THE SPEECH : Ralph won't hesitate in using intermission time to fire up his players with a heated or colorful speech, but he said no such words were necessary Saturday. The RiverHawks scored 10 goals for a nine-goal lead by the second intermission.
"My throat's hurting me a little, so I was keeping it short," he said. "I told them to keep their feet moving, let the puck do the work and continue to work hard. That's all I said."
WHAT A VIEW : Jon Olthuis sat in goal for the RiverHawks for both games last weekend. Watching an offense score 10 goals is a rare sight for any goalie, and Olthuis had to work to remain focused Saturday.
"You try to not look at the scoreboard. You just pretend it's a 2-1 game," he said. "Every game is practice for the playoffs, so you don't want to waste any minutes out there."
Olthuis couldn't help but enjoy the view and fight off boredom.
"Part of staying in the game on my end is to watch the game," he said. "You just have to keep waiting, talk out loud or do whatever you've got to do to stay in it."
ON A ROLE : Ralph said his players' recent improvement can be explained by more than just their youth and energy.
"Everyone's playing well collectively, so I'm sure they're confident," he said. "I think when we have a well-balanced team where their roles are well-defined, it's easier for guys to play when they know what's expected of them. Everybody has started to fall into their role really well."
Newly signed defenseman Joe Tolles seems to have found his role quickly, recording three assists in the blowout win over Louisiana. It was his first game with the RiverHawks after leaving Brock University.
Tolles' decision to leave college hockey in the middle of the season mirrors the move forward Travis Dunstall made three weeks ago. He has six goals in his first seven games with Augusta.