"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!

RiverKings Grab Game One
Memphis Steals Home Ice Advantage from ‘Bats
by Jason Cohen ITC Staff Writer

Austin, TX - The rodeo has long since left the Travis County Expo Center, but the stench made a comeback Thursday, as the visiting Memphis RiverKings beat the Austin Ice Bats 3-0 in Game 1 of the Central Hockey League President's Cup Finals.

The defending champion Kings got an early bounce, weathered a first-period storm and were the far better team from there on out. Mark Richards had 40 saves to earn the shutout -- his seventh straight postseason win.

The Kings lead the best-of-seven series 1-0, with Game 2 Friday night in Austin.

"They kind of owned us in the first, we kind of owned them in the second and then the third we were just kind of protecting a good lead there," said Memphis coach Doug Shedden, whose team outshot the Bats 25-11 in the middle frame. "Not every team plays great for 60 minutes. You can capitalize on a team maybe when they're having a lapse. That's what we did."

It felt like more than a lapse to Shedden's counterpart Brent Hughes. "A lot of guys didn't have any fire tonight," he said. "It's no one's fault but ourselves. They certainly didn't play the way we played to beat Laredo."

The game was just 21 seconds old when the Bats enjoyed a power play, Memphis getting whistled for too many men on the ice. The Kings not only killed off the penalty, but took a 1-0 lead after play returned to even strength.

Austin center Brett Seguin launched a high clearing pass from the middle of the defensive zone that went nowhere, leaving several players to fumble over the puck before Memphis's Jonathan Gagnon grabbed it high above the right circle. Gagnon's deliberate turnaround shot went off Michal Stastny and past a surprised Matt Barnes at 2:43 of the first period.

The Bats had several early two-on-one chances, including a nifty backhand pass by rookie center Brent Hughes (no relation to the coach). But overall, Austin didn't finish -- or start -- their checks, passed into defensemen's skates more than teammate's sticks and failed to get the puck deep or work hard in the corners.

"We didn't come out and play how we thought we'd play tonight," Austin center Kelly Smart said. "They capitalized on their chances and we didn't. We didn't bear down enough."

Memphis scored the game's only power-play goal at 9:34 of the second. Barnes stopped a long Derek Landmesser drive, but the rebound seemed to bounce off defenseman Darryl McArthur as Gagnon digged in to finish off the play.

Richards snuffed out a shorthanded breakaway by Smart not long after that.

"He made a big save when he needed to, and on the power play the guy was unconscious," Hughes said.

Despite taking the loss, Barnes was strong. He made a diving glove save on a two-on-one that had the whole barn openmouthed in wonder, as well as a leaping Statue of Liberty grab on a puck that might have dropped in behind him, all the while fighting off two taller Memphis players camped in front.

Nevertheless, Don Parsons put the game out of reach at 18:36 of the second, helped by the fact that his hit on Patrick Brownlee left the defenseman lying helpless on the ice.

It was a call the Ice Bats didn't get, though having gone 0-for-6 on the PP, including an enticing four-on-three, it's hard to think that would have mattered.

Austin's STP line was on the ice for both even-strength Memphis goals, and just never got it going -- Seguin's passes weren't connecting, and Dan Price, who got hot against Laredo, did not display the physicality he needs to be effective.

"From our top line to our bottom line, we just didn't seem like we wanted it as much as they did," Hughes said.

"I don't think we worked hard enough to get really good chances," Matt Barnes offered. "Tonight I kept the game close but if you don't score you're not gonna win. I'm not blaming anybody by any means, I'm simply saying tonight wasn't our night for whatever reason. The game speaks for itself."

Now both teams figure to forget it fast.

"We're happy tonight and we're gonna celebrate for about another 15 minutes, then get ready for tomorrow," Shedden said.

NOTE: In the combined CHL/WPHL history, the winner of Game 1 has gone on to take the series 39 times out of 47 (oddly, the Bats have been involved in three of the eight where that didn't happen, including the last two Southern Conference Finals).

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