Labelle, loaned to the ECHL’s Florida Everblades in early December, returned to the RiverHawks last week. His first home game back in the Southern Professional Hockey League saw him convert a rebound chance into a tie-breaking goal two minutes into the third period.
Labelle’s fifth goal in 18 Augusta games sparked the RiverHawks, who scored three times in the final period for their third consecutive home win.
“It was a lucky bounce, and I just put my stick on it,” Labelle said. “(Head coach Brad Ralph) told us to settle down in the third, and when we can do that it usually turns into something good.”
The win avenged last weekend’s overtime loss in Fayetteville, N.C., and allowed the first-place RiverHawks (31-9-6) to maintain their seven-point lead over second-place Knoxville, which posted a 3-2 win Thursday at Louisiana.
After a Fayetteville power-play goal negated an otherwise quality first-period effort from Augusta, Brendan Taylor deflected a Drew Baker
shot for the RiverHawks’ first goal during a second-period power play.
Justin Levac, who signed with the team from the Federal Hockey League in January, got his second SPHL goal with six minutes left in the third.
Defenseman Ed Snetsinger sealed the night in the final minute with an unassisted goal on a shot that started even with the center of the two faceoff circles in his own defensive zone more than 135 feet from an empty Fayetteville net.
The RiverHawks’ late offensive surge produced the team’s sixth consecutive game with at least four goals. The third forward line of Labelle, Levac and Jesse Echternach did much of the damage.
“In the third period the hard work from the whole game paid off,” Ralph said. “Tonight our third line was our best line.”
Augusta goalie Peter Skoggard saved 26 of 27 shots for his third win against Fayetteville this season. Mike Brown allowed three goals on 39 shots.
As the SPHL entered its final month of regular-season action, the Fayetteville loss came with playoff implications.
The fourth-place Pensacola Ice Flyers and fifth-place Mississippi Surge each clinched postseason spots. Eight of the league’s nine teams will qualify for the playoffs.