LAFAYETTE — A salty rivalry and a burst of speed gave the Louisiana IceGators a series win heading into the second leg of their five-game road trip this week.
The IceGators (4-4-2) face road contests in Pensacola, Florida, at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday and Columbus, Georgia, at 7:30 Friday before they return to the Cajundome to host the Huntsville Havoc at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.
The busy holiday workload comes on the heels of a two-of-three series win the Gators posted over Peoria, the same squad that took three contests between the clubs earlier this month. The Peoria series included a handful of player suspensions and a coach suspension because of a brawl during the final 15 seconds of the second game. Gators coach Drew Omicioli was forced to sit out the series finale, while defenseman Anthony Pisano and forward Tyler Barr were hit with four-game and two-game suspensions, respectively.
“If you challenge us and say you are going to take one of our top guy’s teeth out, we will answer,” Omicioli said. “I wouldn’t mind playing those guys (the Rivermen) every game. I can’t wait until we go back there. It is a fun atmosphere. Hockey is supposed to be about rivalries and coaches, players and organizations that dislike each other.”
Within that atmosphere, Johnny Daniels came off the injured list and provided an offensive spark by registering a hat trick in one of the wins. “Speed kills,” Omicioli said. “Daniels turned on the jets and never turned them off. He took full advantage of his speed and a lot of the guys on the team were in awe.”
When the IceGators take on the Pensacola Ice Flyers, a couple of participants will be facing their former teammates. The Gators traded Stephen Buco to Pensacola for the rights to defenseman Mike Kavanagh. Bolstering the defensive ranks could be aimed at keeping pace with a squad that scored five goals in Pensacola’s 5-4 triumph when the teams clashed on October 30. Wingers Corey Banfield and Joe Caveney each have five goals to lead the Ice Flyers.
“Pensacola is a great team and very strong offensively,” Omicioli said. “They have arguably one of the best coaches in the league (Rod Aldoff) and we are cordial and professional.”
IceGators goaltender Adam Courchaine received Easton Player of the Week honors for posting a 2-1 mark and a 2.33 goals against average despite the Gators being outshot 127-70 in the Peoria series. “Courchaine proved he is the best goaltender in the league,” Omicioli said.
The trip to Columbus will present the IceGators with more of a grind-it-out challenge where winning battles in the corners and along the boards to control the puck will be paramount. “Columbus is grittier style-wise than Pensacola or Peoria,” Omicioli said.