Expectations surrounding the Augusta RiverHawks centered on simplying surviving a long road trip over the past 3½ weeks. Instead, the time away from James Brown Arena saw the Southern Professional Hockey League’s top team thrive.
The RiverHawks strengthened their hold on first place by grabbing eight points over five road games. They suffered a pair of overtime losses at Pensacola and Huntsville but won the rest, including a franchise-record 11-2 rout of the Ice Flyers and back-to-back victories last weekend at Columbus and Fayetteville.
“I’ve been really pleased with our last couple of games,” coach Brad Ralph said. “It was a good weekend in terms of what I expect of our team. The last two games have been two of our best in terms of consistency.”
The RiverHawks improved their league-best road record to 11-6-2 with nine road games left in the regular season. Last season’s squad broke an SPHL record with 18 road wins.
HOME SWEET HOME: As strong as the RiverHawks have been on the road, they have been even better at home. The team returns to Augusta this week with a league-best 15-2-2 home mark.
Ralph said the team is scheduled to take its home ice today for a morning practice. Augusta will play host to Fayetteville on Friday night in its first home game since Jan. 14.
CLINCHING CLIMATE: The game could come with postseason implications. The RiverHawks (26-8-4) face the last-place FireAntz (12-24-3) one night after Fayetteville plays at Knoxville. If Fayetteville loses to Knoxville, then the RiverHawks would clinch a playoff spot with a win Friday night.
Eight of the league’s nine teams will make the playoffs in a postseason format revised over the off-season.
EVENTUAL REVENGE: Immediately after Friday’s game, the RiverHawks will return to the road for a key game Saturday night in Knoxville. The Ice Bears (22-11-3) once challenged Augusta for first place but have fallen fast over the past month, losing six consecutive games.
The losing streak allowed Columbus to overtake Knoxville in the standings and Augusta to lengthen its first-place lead, but Ralph said the RiverHawks still have some unfinished business with their rivals.
The teams haven’t played since December, and Knoxville has won all four meetings with Augusta this season.
“It’s been a long time since we played, and a lot has changed,” Ralph said. “But it won’t take long to get that rivalry going again. We owe those guys. They’ve had our number.”
The RiverHawks will play Knoxville five times over their last 17 games.
COMMUNITY: Members of the RiverHawks will visit children at the Georgia Health Sciences University Children’s Medical Center today. Defensemen Jason Price and Curtis Megginson and forward Branden Kosolofsky are among the players expected to attend, according to team staff.
Players will visit with the hospitalized children, offer team merchandise and sign autographs.