"Slap Shot" meets "A Season on the Brink" in this twisted tale of minor league hockey in the place with more pro teams than any place in North America: TEXAS!

Ice Bats Control the Air Over Iguanas - ITC

By Jason Cohen

SAN ANTONIO – Traffic on IH-35 slowed the Ice Bats down. The San Antonio Iguanas didn’t.

In a game that was delayed 45 minutes because of a tardy Austin bus, Jeff Greenlaw scored 16 seconds in and Daniel Tetrault had two power-play goals, leading the Bats to a 4-1 win in Game One of the Central Hockey League first-round series.

Contrary to postseason conventional wisdom, no whistles were swallowed on this night, unless referee Gord Dwyer accidentally gulped the sucker down while using it so much. There were 70 PiMs in the first two periods alone, and while certain opportunities only lasted 20 or 30 seconds because of successive calls, Austin finished the night with an astounding 13 chances. San Antonio had six.

“They capitalized on the few chances they got and that's the bottom line of that,” Iguanas head coach Chris Stewart said. “I think we could have played with a lot more discipline than we showed tonight. The important thing is to keep it five on five and not give them the power plays, because while some calls were questionable, we sunk our own ship by not playing intelligent."

“We took a couple of unnecessary penalties early in the game, but after that we decided we weren’t going to retaliate,” Austin captain Jeff Greenlaw said.

Bats rookies Eric Labelle and Dominic Periard were particularly impressive, agitating beautifully against San Antonio’s more established bad boys.

“Huge,” Ice Bats head coach Brent Hughes called the duo’s contribution. “[Labelle] got in the face of guys, and Dom wasn’t taking any crap from anyone. He stood up for himself against Ken Richardson, one of the toughest guys in the league.”

Things became predictably chippy in the third period, but “that was just them trying to send a message for tomorrow night that they’re not going to back down,” Greenlaw said. “And that team won’t -- they’re too good. It’ll be another hard fought game. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes will win.”

Greenlaw started the game with fellow bruiser Ryan Anderson around center Kelly Smart. Off the draw, Smart came out of the corner and set up pinching defenseman Mike Gaffney, whose shot landed in the crease for Greenlaw to sweep up.

So much for that grueling bus ride.

“We were pretty loose,” Greenlaw shrugged. “They had to wait for us.”

“It set the tone of the game,” Hughes said of the early score. “We knew the goals were going to come at the front of the net.”

Iggies d-man Clay Awe made it 1-1 with a power-play goal at 13:44 of the first, a nicely placed high one from the left point.

Austin retook the lead courtesy of Tetrault less than four minutes later, one second after four-on-four play gave way to a PP.

“They turned it over, I got it back to Brett Seguin and he made a nice pass near the red line,” Tetrault said. “I was going in two on one with Dan Price wide. I looked at him the whole time to fool [SA goalie Brent Belecki], then shot it five hole.”

Tetrault socked the game away at 16:36 of the second period with his five-on-three marker, a wide-open blast from the high slot with the other seven skaters mostly battling behind the net. Price and Gerald Tallaire assisted. Ryan Edwards and Mark DeSantis, the latter of whom will not be sending Dwyer a box of chocolates any time soon, were the Iggies in the box.

Austin goaltender Bryan McMullen stopped 30 shots to earn his first carer playoff win in an Ice Bats sweater. Belecki stopped 28. His play, along with a strong Iguanas penalty kill, kept the game from getting out of hand. Since Austin’s power-play goals came off the rush and five-on-three, Hughes wasn’t too impressed with his unit, the best in the CHL during the regular season.

“That was the most disappointing part of the game,” he said. “We weren’t on loose pucks, there was no puck support on the dump-ins, no rebounds, no anything. That power play wasn’t us.”

Game Two is in Austin at 7:30pm Saturday night.

For Austin fans, it’s almost like the Central Texas Stampede never went away. In five Western Professional Hockey League seasons, the Bats never got a playoff contest with its most heated, hated rival, the now-defunct hockey club just up 35 in Belton. But in the post-merger Central Hockey League, Austin gets a backyard playoff brawl with the Iguanas first time out. There’s nothing like a series where you can’t tell which team scored just from crowd sound– at both Freeman Coliseum and the Travis County Expo Center, hundreds of road fans have made their presence felt.

Playoff intensity is also showing off the ice. Last weekend, several Bats players returned to the team’s practice rink after a two-day road trip to find their cars had been decorated in Silly String with pro-Iguanas smack.

Austin mayor Gus Garcia and his San Antonio counterpart Ed Garza have a wager on the series. The loser will don the winning team’s sweater at a city council meeting. Apparently, puffy tacos vs. migas don’t provide enough of a culinary distinction for a traditional politico foodstuff bet.

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