RiverHawks fail to gain ground in weekend playoff push

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The Augusta RiverHawks entered the weekend within striking distance of eighth place in the SPHL standings for the first time in months. However, splitting the two weekend games left them exactly where they were before the weekend began.

The RiverHawks, who sat five points out of eighth place before Saturday’s game, came within three points of Huntsville on Sunday. But they lost 3-2 to Fayetteville to end the weekend, while the Havoc beat the Mississippi Surge in a shootout, giving Huntsville a five-point advantage for the last playoff spot with one month left in the season.

Augusta has put pressure on Huntsville for the first time since its early-season slump. The RiverHawks are 5-5 in their past 10 games and 3-2 in their past five.

If they split their final two games of February, it will mark their first winning month this season.

“We’re playing a better brand of hockey, but we’re still trying to catch up,” coach Mark Richards said. “We know better than anyone that if we get in (the playoffs), I don’t think anyone would enjoy facing us. But we still have work to do.”

The RiverHawks and the Havoc have three meetings remaining. A crucial stretch begins Feb. 28 when the two teams play on consecutive days, the first coming in Augusta before the teams travel to Huntsville the next day. The third meeting is the following Friday, March 8, in Augusta.

Dating back to Saturday, 10 of Augusta’s final 15 games are at James Brown Arena.

A late comeback attempt against Fayette­ville on Sunday showed the RiverHawks are scrambling for every opportunity.

“We still battled,” Richards said. “We didn’t quit, and that’s part of our makeup. We have to scratch and claw now.”

ROSTER MOVES: The RiverHawks made moves over the weekend to make up for losses, especially in goal.

With backup goalie Austin Lee on suspension, Augusta signed Nick Niedert on Jan. 30. He was loaned to the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators on Saturday, so the RiverHawks were forced to sign an emergency goaltender. They found Jared Balbag, an Augusta native who attended Evans High School and was a member of the Junior Lynx program as a teenager.

The 23-year-old was a backup to Robert Moss for the two weekend games.

The RiverHawks suffered the loss of defenseman Joe Schiller to the 30-day injured reserve. The 24-year-old SPHL rookie has one goal and two assists in 14 games for Augusta, recording a plus-minus of +8.

No move to fill the roster spot was announced over the weekend.


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