A hot start to the 2011-12 season has the Augusta RiverHawks sitting atop the Southern Professional Hockey League standings. It’s a good thing, too, considering the road ahead.
The RiverHawks (6-1-1) won’t play another home game until after Thanksgiving. Events booked at James Brown Arena will even keep the team out of the building during the week, forcing trips to Columbia just to practice.
“We’re out of here for a while,” head coach Brad Ralph said.
The RiverHawks will play a pair of road games this weekend in Lafayette, La. – the first of four consecutive road games in a span of almost three weeks. The team won’t return home until Nov. 25.
“We know what’s coming up,” forward Branden Kosolofsky said. “We’ve got to be ready for it. We’ve got to play greasy on the road. It’s a good thing we got out to a good start the way we did.”
The RiverHawks enjoy a five-point lead over the rest of the SPHL heading into the fourth week of the season.
SUSPENDED: The team played short-handed over the weekend after two players were suspended following separate incidents in Thursday night’s game. The SPHL hit defenseman Tyson Gimblett for six games and forward Aaron McGill for one.
McGill sat out Friday’s game and returned to the line up Saturday. Gimblett is still serving the longest suspension handed out in the SPHL so far this season.
“In reviewing the game video, Mr. Gimblett was initially in pursuit of the Huntsville puck-carrier along the boards,” SPHL vice president Doug Price said in a statement. “However, after the Huntsville player lost the puck, Mr. Gimblett deliberately and forcefully struck his opponent’s head with his elbow, driving his head into the glass. Mr. Gimblett raised himself up to deliver the hit squarely to the head, nearly leaving his feet in the process, and made no attempt to deliver a legal hit.”
Gimblett won’t be allowed back on the ice until Nov. 25.
ROLE PLAYERS: Augusta won on the road last Thursday with an overtime victory that required a little extra input from Matt Auffrey and player-assistant coach Jason Price. Ralph was given a game misconduct and automatic ejection with five minutes left in regulation during their gave in Huntsville, Ala.
Price and Auffrey took the reigns in overtime, which consists of 3-on-3 play that requires teams to put either two forwards and a defenseman on the ice or go with two defensemen and a forward.
Two forwards started the five-minute overtime period on the ice, but it was the second line, comprised of Price, fellow defenseman Curtis Megginson and lone forward Dustin Cloutier, that produced the game-winning goal. Cloutier scored 52 seconds in for his first of the season.
DEFENSE DOWN: Price ended the weekend on the bench with an injured hand, a problem for a defensive unit already skating without the suspended Gimblett.
“I took a slash to the hand, and I knew I couldn’t be as strong as I needed to be on the puck,” Price said. “I didn’t want to be a liability out there.”
The injury dropped the RiverHawks down to just four available defensemen late in Saturday’s game against Fayetteville and forced the home team to put forward Jim Gehring on a defensive shift.
Fayetteville won on the first shot in overtime.
ATTENDANCE UP: For the first time since last season’s opening weekend, the RiverHawks are not ranked last in attendance in the league. Riding the momentum of Friday night’s 2,285 fans, Augusta has posted an average of 1,910 fans per game through six home games, launching the team ahead of the last-place Mississippi Surge (1,737).
The Louisiana IceGators have yet to play a home game.