Sunday, December 15, 2002
My oh my -- Saints alive!
"Dress-Wearing Scorpion Knifed at Nudie Bar?" They'll be jealous of that one at the New York Post for sure.
I'm writing from El Paso, where the Ice Bats' play tonight was about what I expected. It's a total Catch-22 – great teams are almost always gonna beat a struggling team even with a so-so effort. The players know that, so they end up giving one. Austin's game plan for tonight was simple: don't take 'em lightly, don't look ahead to Memphis, play it like any other road match.
"That's what I told the guys before the game," Bats coach Brent Hughes acknowledged. "And during the game. And after the first period. I have a hard time figuring it out. We didn't play well as a team tonight."
But as Jim Burton once told me, if he could unfailingly bridge the gap between what players say they're gonna do (and know they're supposed to do) versus what actually happens, he'd be coaching in the NHL.
Tonight, the Bats fell back on goaltending – from Peter Brady, not Matt Barnes (with that 3pm game on Sunday, it's too bad Hughes couldn't put Barnesy on a Southwest flight home, and just dress Gunner as the back-up). Austin's rookie netminder was flawless – he saw the puck well, kicked out everything sideways, turned back a total breakaway and got lots of clears and poke-checks from his D. He made two big saves before the goal that ruined the shutout, a back-door rebound into an open net.
"As long as we win I don't care," Brady said. "If they score 7 goals and we win 8-7 I'm happy."
And with the game tied at 1-1, victory was hardly guaranteed. But Brett Seguin put things away with a shot that bounced softly off and over a Buzzards defenseman and Matt Carmichael's pad before going in the net. "Pig" received first star of the game for that – except according to his coach.
"He was last star in my book," Hughes said. "Seguin and Pricer never had any legs tonight. They're just having trouble gettin' her going. Peter Brady should have got first star. He kept us in the hockey game."
"I thought they played pretty good hockey tonight," Hughes said of the Buzzards. "I think we gave them light at the end of the tunnel after the first period. They slowly got momentum and kept coming, kept coming. For six wins on the year they played a pretty good game."
"We outplayed 'em, and outshot 'em 2 to 1," El Paso coach Craig Coxe offered. "Unfortunately, we couldn't get the puck in the net. That seems to be the case for us a lot of times this year."
The night did not lack for good drama. Shawn Legault, who can't seem to buy a fight at home, got two. The first-period tilt with Josh Tymchak was entertainingly civil, as the smaller Buzzard hung on, took his beating and finished with a few shots of his own. Then both players agreed to let the linesmen in. Scott Mahar fared better, as well he should have – #10 was fairly fresh in the third period, whereas Legault, bad foot and all, took a regular shift in his first game in three weeks.
"Craig Coxe was a tough guy in his time so I knew he'd have one or two guys who wouldn't turn away from Legs," Hughes said. "Any time you go into somebody else's building, someone's going to step up to the plate."
There was also a penalty shot, with Carmichael stopping Tab Lardner with a gutty poke check. It was a bad call to begin with, after some great hustle by Lardner – he was hooked, but by the end of the play, he'd either gotten off his shot (high) or not taken one at all. That calls for a minor. Since the Bats were about to kill off three minutes of a Mike Olynyk high-sticking major, lopping 120 seconds off that might have been a better deal.
"That's what I said on the bench, the guys looked at me like I was crazy," Hughes said. "Obviously if we had scored it would have been a great situation."
Oh and as usual, the El Paso fans are super. They really gave it to the ref (and Olynyk), and it's fun to spot the long-timers (guys with Hilton and Trewand Eigner jerseys). On a personal note, the staffers there (Ellen, Delia, all three Michaels, Strelz, Brian and many others) always treat me beyond good. Though I'll admit, it was kind of depressing to be there and not get déjà vu – that's how far removed the franchise feels from last year's playoff run, for fairly obvious reasons.