LAFAYETTE — A road trip and the return of a goaltender will greet the Louisiana IceGators as they go into a new year.
When the Gators take trips to Georgia and Mississippi to tangle with the Macon Mayhem and Mississippi RiverKings on Friday and Saturday, Adam Courchaine will be back in the fold following his stint with Norfolk of the ECHL.
Courchaine will get the start Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Macon as the Gators take on the Mayhem for the third straight time after the Mayhem swept a pair of games at the Cajundome last weekend. The ensuing Mississippi game is set for 7:05 p.m.
“Adam is excited, and we feel it will be a great start to the year after not experiencing what we expected in 2015,” IceGators coach Drew Omicioli said.
That opening couple of months resulted in the Gators posting a 7-11-3 mark that has them in last place in the Southern Professional Hockey League with 17 points. That stretch of games has included several call-ups of IceGators players by ECHL clubs and a handful of injuries — one of which resulted in the retirement of defenseman Mitch Stretch.
Courchaine comes back after his 13 previous league games netted a 5-6-2 individual record and a 2.72 goals against average.
“We know what our opponents’ strengths are, and our focus has been on our work ethic,” Omicioli said. “We have to stick to our system and get things going. We know we have young guys who have the potential to explode, and we are looking for guys to break out.”
The Gators managed two goals in a couple of 4-1 losses to Macon. Mayhem goaltender Garrett Bartus ranks fifth in the league with a 2.41 goals against average. The combination of his play and the Mayhem performance in power play situations played large roles in Macon’s success against the Gators.
A recent battle with the RiverKings resulted in a shootout that set a league record by going 15 rounds in an eventual IceGators victory. Although the RiverKings are in first place with a 13-5-3 record, they have encountered tough sledding against the Gators in regulation time and overtime. Mississippi has not scored a goal on Louisiana in 125 minutes of game action (excluding the shootout).
“Mississippi is a difficult team to play because the style they play is very sporadic,” Omicioli said. “They are all over the place, but they jump (on you) immediately. It’s difficult to play against teams that might not have real strict systems. They have a talented team with solid goaltending and good defensemen.”
The Gators will be a man short for a few games and will have 17 players available after the league assessed Alex Hudson a four-game suspension connected to a kneeing penalty during the previous Macon series.
“After three games (of the four), we can sign somebody to a three-game tryout,” Omicioli said. “I thought the right call was made on the ice (a minor for kneeing),” Omicioli said. “It was a kneeing penalty, but he was leading with his shoulder as well.”
Mississippi had its own roster shakeup in the form of a call-up when center Devin Mantha was loaned to Norfolk. In 21 games, Mantha had 19 points for the RiverKings -- seven goals and 12 assists. “We are short a man, but a lot of teams have been short,” Omicioli said. “Mississippi has yet to score on us in 125 minutes. Hopefully, we can make it 185 minutes. It’s going to be a battle.”