Jason Cohen ITC Staff Writer
El Paso, TX -
As if being down 2-0 in the CHL Southern Conference
Finals wasn't bad enough, Austin Ice Bats coach Brent
Hughes now gets to ask himself the worst possible question
at the worst possible time. Whos my goalie?
Even worse, he
doesn't know the answer.
took Game 2 from Austin Saturday, 5-2, a score that
might have gone the other way if not for the guys who
wear the masks. El Paso's Jeff Levy stopped 43 shots.
Austin's Bryan McMullen turned back one.
got a power-play tally from Kory Baker on the first
shot of the game at 1:52, while Jeremy Van Parys scored
on El Paso's third attempt, at 14:56. That came one
minute and twenty-seven seconds after Bats center Kelly
Smart had made it 1-1.
Both Baker and
Van Parys had too much time to work. John Hanson took
advantage of out-of-position penalty-killer Bobby Brown
to set up Baker on a shot from the left boards. Van
Parys picked up a loose puck and blasted it from just
inside the blue line.
But the shots
were stoppable, and McMullen knew it. He skated to the
bench at 14:56, patted back-up Dan McIntyre on the head
and retreated to the penalty box (no, he wasn't punishing
himself - the visitor's bench at El Paso County Coliseum
stop a thing out there," a despondent McMullen
said after the game. "I've been feeling like it
was my first time on skates the last few days. I just
thought the team would be better off with 'Mac' in net.
I really can't explain it - if I knew [what the problem
was] I'd correct it, believe me. It's a terrible time
for this to happen, but we're not out of it. We're down
two, but we're going home for three. A few days practice
and hopefully I'll step out of it."
Whether he gets
a chance to step out of it in an actual game environment
is the question Hughes will ponder. "I don't know
what I'm going to do," he said. "Their goalie
is outplaying our goalie, that's pretty much the bottom
line. Our guys worked their you know what's off all
night long. We worked hard enough to get two goals but
gave up two real squeakers early in the game.
the tide will turn," he continued. "I don't
think there's any question that our team can win some
hockey games, we've just been getting off to some bad
starts. Against San Antonio we got good starts, and
good goaltending. In this series, we haven't scored
on our power play and we haven't had goaltending."
The Bats were
0-for-5 on the power play tonight, getting decent pressure,
but no red lights. McIntyre did his part to keep the
team alive, and didn't waste time doing it either -
Cory Waring's shorthanded breakaway attempt and Derrel
Upton's follow-up were the first two shots he faced.
But in the second
period, Austin gave up another early score. Rhett Dudley's
tally at 0:47, a textbook play off an offensive zone
face-off, stood up as the winner. It was the same sort
of goal Austin routinely allowed to Bossier-Shreveport's
defensemen in last year's playoffs - lose the draw outright,
then everyone gets held up around the circle so the
point man is not only uncovered, but the guy who could
be covering him is helping set the screen.
made it 3-2 with a top-shelf point drive of his own
less than a minute later. From there, the Bats were
dominant - but not as dominant as Levy, who received
the usual complement of help in the form of cleared-out
rebounds and timely poke-checks. Levy has now stopped
78 of 81 shots in the series.
think Austin controlled the middle part of the hockey
game," Buzzards coach Trent Eigner said. "Jeff
was the difference. He's as low maintenance a hockey
player as a coach could have. He's got absolutely no
ego and enjoys playing the game. It's easy to rally
around a guy like that. When your teammates have a lot
of confidence in you and enjoy working hard for you,
performance is particularly impressive given that he
sat out the middle of the season after back surgery.
"But he's fresh mentally and physically,"
Eigner pointed out. "Most goalies are looking at
their 40th or 45th start, while Jeff is right around
Waring put the
game away early in the third period, finishing a 2-on-1
begun by Aaron Phillips to make it 4-2.
have been tremendously opportunistic," Eigner said.
"We got outchanced tonight, but when you get quality
chances and convert them, that' s all a team could ask
Mike Rees added
an empty-netter for El Paso's final goal.
Now Austin must
hope the cocktail of desperation and friendly confines
will help them turn their play around. Meanwhile, the
Buzzards are happy to hit the road, and know better
than to think a 2-0 lead means anything just
look at Memphis-Bossier-Shreveport in the Northern Conference.
are going crazy, but the enthusiasm is tempered in the
locker room," Eigner said. "The guys know
that two wins don't make a series. We're going to have
to play exceptional hockey to beat Austin at home, but
you can only do what you can do. Our approach isn't
going to change from how it's been the last two months.
We needed to win a lot of games just to put ourselves
in this position, and at this point in the season everything
is a wash. The next three just happen to take place
there are three.
NOTE: Game 3
is Wednesday, April 10, with Game 4 on Friday and a
possible Game 5 Saturday. El Paso fans interested in
traveling to Austin for the weekend should contact Weni
Gutierrez at the Buzzards office about a chartered bus.
The team needs to fill a certain amount of seats for
the trip to happen. The phone number is (915) 533-7825.
Jason Cohen began
his reporting for the book Zamboni Rodeo (www.zambonirodeo.com)
during El Paso's 1997 playoff win over the Ice Bats.