"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!

San Antonio Iguanas 1 at Austin IceBats 4
By Jason Cohen, ITC Staff Writer

AUSTIN, Texas - Book it now; Game 4 will be a one-goal game. Double overtime. After all, these two so-called evenly matched teams are bound to play a tight one sooner or later.

Austin took its turn on the offensive seesaw Friday, earning the first home win of the CHL first-round series, 4-1.

The Bats prevailed in Game 1 by that same score, while the Iguanas won Game 2, 5-2. Both times, quick or early goals overshadowed every other aspect of the game.

In the opener, Austin lit the lamp 16 seconds in. One night later, San Antonio took a 2-0 lead on goals 69 seconds apart, then made it 4-0 on goals 39 seconds apart.

Tonight, the Bats got a pair before all three forward lines had taken a full shift. Austin led 3-0 by the end of the first period.

“You can’t spot a team three goals, and that’s what we did,” Iguanas coach Chris Stewart said. “We weren’t as alert as we should have been to start the game.”

Austin leads the best-of-five series 2-1, with Game 4 in San Antonio Saturday. If necessary, Game 5 would be back in Austin Easter Sunday afternoon.

For Bats head coach Brent Hughes, a week of practice after Game 2 meant motivational tactics were unnecessary. “Any time you have a loss you want to get back at it right away,” he said. “Our guys showed how fired up they were. We’ve been chomping at the bit all week.”

His Bats chewed through their muzzles at 1:36 of the first period. Rookie defenseman Darryl McArthur put on a dashing offensive display, going left to right across center ice to lead a three-on-two deep into the zone.

With a quick flick of McArthur’s wrist—A shot? A pass?—the puck hit Brent Belecki in the pads and sat immobile in the slot, batting its eyelashes until Bobby Brown could pick it up. Brown, in his first postseason game after yet another Houston Aeros call-up, finished off the play going hard to net. 1-0 Bats.

Thirteen seconds later, Belecki had trouble tracking down Greg Willers’ left-point floater. The Iguanas goaltender flopped to cover the loose rubber, but Ryan Anderson beat him to it. Again the puck seemed to pause, just outside the post. This time Ian Larocque responded to the come-hither glance, sliding it around the pole and behind Belecki, who was still far out in front.

Hughes is fond of the coaching aphorism that says 2-0 is the worst lead in hockey, but tonight, the Bats never lost their focus.

“That was our objective, to play 60 miles and come hard,” Hughes said. “I thought we did a great job making them work for everything they got.”

Work would be a generous description of the Iguanas’ first-period effort.

The Bats’ early lead put them in a metaphorical fog to go along with the actual one. It’s springtime in Austin, and that means humid air and soupy ice at the climate-uncontrolled Travis County Expo Center. Late in every period the friction was so strong that clearing passes often died inside the blue line.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that,” Stewart said, before offering the obligatory “it’s the same for both teams.”

Not when one team has a two-goal lead it isn’t. And should Austin make it to the next round, Hughes may be at a disadvantage in his own building - he’s got himself a “good ice” team, whereas Odessa and El Paso are more accustomed to a grinding game.

At any rate, the ice didn’t stop CHL regular-season scoring champ Dan Price from delivering a rocket pass from behind the net at 14:23 of the period, setting up Mike Gaffney in the high slot during four-on-four play.

After the first intermission, the Iguanas got back in touch with their game as well as their ill tempers, racking up 28 penalty minutes in the final two periods. Bats goalie Bryan McMullen was immune to their antagonism, as well as their attempts to score. “Mully” didn’t even see a puck in the first five minutes of the game, but he made a nice save on Mark De Santis, breaking down the left face-off circle, when the Iggies finally registered a shot. And he epitomized “your goalie is your best penalty-killer” in the second period, when San Antonio had two four-on-three power plays.

“He played great in the first game and he played great tonight,” Hughes said of McMullen, who missed Game 2 due to illness. “He’s definitely been the key to the series.”

Brett Seguin scored 26 seconds into the third period, while Blair Manning converted the rebound of a Johnny Brdrarovic shot that came off the post at 8:44 of the third for San Antonio’s only goal.

By the time they hit the showers, both teams had their minds firmly on Game 4.

“We knew we had to win two [in Austin] when we lost the first one in our building, so that’s basically how it stands right now,” Stewart said.

“We’re not going to get too high because it’s not over,” Ian Larocque offered. “If we let up tomorrow, they’ll jump right on us. The teams are so evenly matched.”

So play an even game already!

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