In the moments after his team suffered a 4-3 overtime defeat to the Columbus Cottonmouths, the reigning Southern Professional Hockey League Coach of the Year pledged that the 2012 version of his team will look different.
“There will be some serious changes here this week,” he said. “I’m disappointed with the heart of some of the guys we brought in here. I wish some of them would have stepped up, but it didn’t happen.”
The RiverHawks spent most of the season in sole possession of first place before losing four of their past five games. Saturday’s overtime loss did earn it a point, which pulled Augusta into a tie for first with Knoxville.
Third-place Columbus inched closer to the top two teams when forward Derek Pallardy stole the puck from Aaron McGill in overtime and used the breakaway to beat goalie Jon Olthuis for the game-winning goal.
Columbus’ Orrin Herrgott scored twice, and goalie Ian Vigier made 25 saves to complete a three-point weekend against Knoxville and Augusta.
“They’re the best two teams in the league,” Columbus coach Jerome Bechard said. “We’re OK to just fly under the radar.”
Olthuis again gave up an early goal after forward Branden Kosolofsky was called for cross checking a minute into the game. Hergott’s wrister beat Olthuis for a Columbus lead 106 seconds in.
The rest of the period belonged to Augusta, who got goals from Ed Snetsinger and Matt Auffrey for a 2-1 lead.
But Columbus (14-8-4) dominated the second period and only a Neil Graham goal with 16.8 seconds left in regulation prevented Augusta (19-6-2) from taking an outright loss.
Though Ralph said changes are coming soon, he also emphasized that the team is not in panic mode.
“We’re going to be fine,” he said. “We’ve got a great foundation here. I guess you go through these parts of the season to find out about the guys you have.”