A heavy schedule of events and concerts at James Brown Arena has put the Augusta RiverHawks on the road for much of the month. The way things have gone for the team, some time away from home doesn’t seem to matter.
The RiverHawks swept another road series with a pair of wins over the Louisiana IceGators on Friday and Saturday. Augusta has posted a 4-0-0 road record and leads the Southern Professional Hockey League at 8-1-1.
The cushion the team has on the rest of the league was extended to five games with the weekend’s performance.
“It was a long road trip – 12 hours on a bus one way – and to come out of there with two wins, I think everyone’s happy,” coach Brad Ralph said.
The trip to Lafayette was the longest single road journey of the season for the RiverHawks, who covered almost 1,500 miles round-trip.
The team is in the middle of a nearly three-week span of road games.
Augusta’s home ice isn’t even available for practice, meaning the team has had to spend one fewer day on the ice each week and head to Columbia for Wednesday on-ice workouts.
Forward Jim Gehring, who tallied his second hat trick of the season in Friday’s win, said the time off the ice might be beneficial.
“We had those back-to-back three games in three days early in the season,” he said. “So I think it’s good to get off the ice a little bit. It’s a long season, so this is keeping everybody fresh.”
Ralph said the team’s first-
period effort in Friday’s 5-2 win was “systematically our best period of the year.”
The RiverHawks will be back on the road on Friday when they take on the Huntsville Havoc, the fifth-place team in the SPHL.
HATS OFF: Gehring’s three goals Friday made him the league’s scoring leader. The 28-year-old left wing has scored nine goals in 10 games.
“For me, I know I’m super competitive,” he said. “And I think last year I was going too hard and chasing the puck around the ice instead of playing positionally. This year, with the help of my linemates, I’m playing smarter.”
Gehring has scored 15 goals in his past 22 regular season games.
INJURED: Jason Price, named the team’s player-assistant coach at the beginning of the season, was placed on the 30-day injured reserve last week because of a hand injury suffered in a Nov. 5 home win over Fayetteville.
Ralph brought in Kory Helowka, a 25-year-old defenseman with international experience, and signed him to a three-game tryout to fill Price’s roster spot.
Helowka picked up an assist in his first game, helping Travis Dunstall post a first-period score in Friday’s win.
HE’S BACK: Enforcer Kevin Fukala has returned to the SPHL but not with Augusta. The RiverHawks traded the rights to Fukala last week to the Mississippi RiverKings for cash, Ralph said.
The fighting forward ended last season suspended from the playoffs with a 10-game suspension
handed down by the league office after an on-ice incident.
Fukala posted 136 penalty minutes last season to rank second on the team and eighth in the league despite playing only 23 games.
“We have a well-balanced team here right now,” Ralph said. “And I think once we get Tyson (Gimblett) back, we’ll have the toughness we need.”
Gimblett, second in the league with 56 penalty minutes behind only teammate Aaron McGill’s 59, has two games left on a six-game suspension he picked up in a game in Huntsville, Ala. two weeks ago.
Fukala and his new team are scheduled to come to James Brown Arena on Dec. 16-17.