COLUMBUS, GA – Friday, January 3rd was the start of the new calendar year for the Columbus Cottonmouths. It brought with it the return of a familiar face and a visit from the Bloomington Thunder. Although the 2,213 fans in attendance at the Columbus Civic Center were happy to see Sam Bowles back on the ice, it was Kyle Watson and the Thunder who came away with a 2-1 overtime victory.
Bloomington arrived in Columbus after travelling from Peoria following a late afternoon New Years Day game. Going up against a well-rested Cottonmouths squad, the Thunder held their own in the first period, outshooting the home team 12-9 in the frame. Both goalies, Max Strang for Bloomington and Travis Bosch for Columbus, were perfect in stopping the shots they faced.
Despite the lack of scoring, the opening frame wasn’t without action. At the 15:39 mark, Columbus’ Will Aide and Bloomington’s Ron Cramer dropped the gloved and duked it out. Twenty seconds later, the Cottonmouths’ Dan Bremner and the Thunder’s Dennis Sicard went at it in round two. Then in the final minute before the intermission, Watson rang the bell for round three with Columbus’ Mike Switzer.
With the animosity out of the way, the teams settled into a defensive albeit wide open battle. The teams combined for 29 shots in the second period, 17 by the Cottonmouths.
Columbus got on the board first at the 2:20 mark of the middle stanza. Bowles, who had been brought out of retirement to bolster the lineup, scored an unassisted goal against Strang to put his team ahead. The lead lasted just over four minutes before the Thunder tied things up on a power play when Watson set up Kory Helowka who beat Bosch.
The third period was a tense one as both benches knew that one mistake could create the game-winning tally. Strang faced 12 Columbus shots and was equal to the task while Bosch made eight saves on the eight shots he saw.
The games headed to overtime where once again the Cottonmouths outshot the Thunder but Strang held the fort. Then with 28 seconds left between the teams and a shootout, Bloomington’s Branden Parkhouse got the puck to Peter Cintala who in turn fed Watson who completed his Gordie Howe hat trick by putting it past Bosch to end the contest.
Strang earned the number three star for the game with 40 saves on 41 shots. His counterpart Bosch stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced in suffering the tough luck loss.