Weekend widens RiverHawks' scoring lead

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A high-powered Augusta RiverHawks offense already led the Southern Profes­sional Hockey League in goals scored before last weekend. Two games and 14 goals later, the lead has increased dramatically.

A franchise record-breaking 8-0 win Thurs­day over Huntsville, coupled with Saturday’s 6-3 victory over Pensacola, kept the RiverHawks (14-3-1) in first place with a league-leading 4.3 goals per game average.

The rewarding part for coach Brad Ralph was what he called a complete team effort. Of the 15 skaters on the roster, 14 recorded either a goal or an assist in at least one of the two games. Nine different RiverHawks scored a goal.

“Sometimes you work so hard, and you don’t get rewarded on the stat sheet,” Ralph said. “So it was really nice to see guys like Kyle Watson get his first goal. He worked very hard on both ends of the ice.”

POWER MOVE: Part of the reason for the offensive surge has come in the power play, where the RiverHawks rank second in the league with a 20.8 percent success rate with a man advantage.

The run has come with a four-forward attack from Ralph, whose power play approach includes pulling a defenseman and slipping rookie forward Chris Doyle in at the point.

“You always look for that threat at the point,” Ralph said. “You want someone who can shoot there, and with (Matt) Auf­frey and (Dustin) Cloutier both right shots, they’re hitting (Ed Snetsinger) and Doyle. So it’s not so much systematical
as it is finding the right talent out there.”
Augusta’s power play unit has scored at least one goal in eight consecutive games, a streak that has seen a success rate of 30 percent. Doyle has built a scoring streak of eight games in a row. Of his 10 goals in that time, four have come with a man advantage.

BACK TO THE BACK: Defense­man Jason Price, also an assistant coach this year, returned to the ice Thursday after coming off the 30-day injured reserve list.

“It was great for me and my head to be back out there. I needed it,” he said. “It’s been a long time just watching the games. It’s been killing me.”

The 26-year-old assistant team captain, who was nursing an injured hand, started Thursday and added two assists in Saturday’s win.

“He’s very smart. He’s got experience,” Ralph said. “He really settles us down on the back end, and that makes us that much deeper.”

ROOKIE LEADER: Goalie B.J. O’Brien scooped up the game puck on his way off the ice after Thursday’s 8-0 win over Huntsville. With 27 saves, the rookie earned his first professional shutout and won his third start in a row. He also moved into the league lead with a 2.17 goals allowed average and 92.3 percent save rate.

“He’s a confident goalie. He wants to play, and he’s not happy when he’s not playing,” Ralph said. “He’s very consistent, and that’s what you want out of a goalie. I think he’s surprised a lot of
people – probably not himself – but he’s
stepped in and done a great job for us.”

LOOKING AHEAD: A full weekend with three games in three nights will start Thurs­day, when the RiverHawks play in Huntsville, Ala. The team will return home for a pair of games against the first-year Mississippi RiverKings.

Saturday night’s game at James Brown Arena will be J.D. Paugh Me­mor­ial Night, in honor of the Rich­mond Coun­­ty sheriff’s deputy who was shot and killed Oct. 23. Two dollars out of each $12 ticket will go toward a college fund set up for Paugh’s son, Brandon.

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