RiverHawks' goalie situation still up in the air

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Augusta RiverHawks coach Brad Ralph was left scrambling to find another goalie when Peter Skoggard was force to leave the country last month because of immigration issues. Skoggard is back, but the goalie situation is far from settled.

The second-year pro was on the practice ice Monday morning after a six-week ordeal that forced him back to his native Sweden. He returned to find a pair of solid goalies already in place.

Rookie B.J. O’Brien has won his past four starts and leads the Southern Professional Hockey League with a 2.29 goals against average and 92.0 save percentage. Fellow goalie Jon Olthuis, who led the league last year in wins, has won five of six starts, including two this past weekend.

The RiverHawks did have an open spot on the roster for Skoggard, but SPHL teams rarely use up three spots for goalies.

“We’ll keep all three for now,” Ralph said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Though O’Brien and Olthuis have provided quality time in goal for the RiverHawks, Skoggard has also proven his worth. The 23-year-old has yet to lose a professional game in nine regular season starts. He went 6-0-0 with a 2.54 goals allowed average last season and allowed just six goals in three games – all wins – before he left the team in the first week of November.

“It’s good to be back,” he said. “It’s been mostly a waiting game, then I had to go to the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm for an interview and get everything ready. I’ve got my visa now, so I’m ready to go.”

DOYLE RULES: The roster spot currently filled by Skoggard was there because rookie goal-scorer Chris Doyle left the team last week to play for the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays. Doyle, who led the league’s rookies with 13 goals, had scored in eight consecutive games.

FIGHT FOR IT: Once the three-goalie situation gets sorted out, the vacated roster spot might eventually go to an enforcer. Though the RiverHawks once again swept a three-game weekend for the third time this year, they did so without a fight.

The fighters that have helped Augusta post 500 penalty minutes in the first 21 games weren’t available in a weekend that saw the team manage a combined 24 penalty minutes in three games.

“I’m working on getting a guy in here who can do some dirty work,” Ralph said.

Defenseman Tyson Gimblett led the league in penalty minutes before he was loaned to Bakersfield in the ECHL on Nov. 30. Forward Lucas LaBelle went to the Florida Everblades a week later, and Aaron McGill, Augusta’s current penalty minutes leader, has been playing with an injured finger that prevents him from throwing punches.

SOUTHERN SHOWDOWN: The RiverHawks’ three-game sweep this past weekend kept them five points ahead of second-place Knoxville in the league standings. Augusta will play in Fayetteville, N.C., tonight before setting up a key meeting with the Ice Bears in Knoxville, Tenn., on Thursday.

“I can see how everyone’s looking ahead to that game, but we’ve got to get the win in Fayetteville,” Ralph said. “We haven’t played our best (against Knoxville). We’ve haven’t had the goaltending we needed against them, but they are beatable. It’ll be a good hockey game.”

The RiverHawks (17-3-1) have yet to beat Knoxville (15-4-0) in two meetings this season. The Ice Bears are a perfect 9-0-0 at home.

WORTHY CAUSE: Proceeds from Saturday’s J.D. Paugh Memorial Night were still being tallied Monday, but a RiverHawks staffer said more than $5,000 was raised just through the postgame jersey auction. The team also sold other merchandise and pledged to donate $2 of every ticket sold on a night with an announced attendance of 2,580.

Paugh, a Richmond County sheriff’s deputy, was shot and killed earlier this year in the line of duty. The donated money will go to a college fund for Paugh’s teenage son.

HE’S BACK: Team captain Matt Auffrey is a likely candidate for the SPHL player of the week after continuing his hot streak through the weekend. The reigning league MVP scored four goals in three games to extend his scoring streak to six games.

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