Photo from Ming’s Virtual Eyes
Despite a slow start, the sweep last weekend of one of the top teams in the SPHL, as well as signing one of the proven scorers in the league could be the turning point of the season for the Fayetteville FireAntz. While their 4-6-4 record may not actually give a solid overview of their team, the FireAntz have had a learning curve with new coach Emery Olauson at the helm and dealt with a lot of close losses, as told by the four overtime/shootout losses and losing in two additional one-goal games on the season. Coach Olauson stressed that he didn’t want to make a lot of changes when dealing with the one-goal games and the losing streak from the season:
I’ve been patient with them and haven’t made a ton of changes, which I think a lot of people expected this week. But with these one-goal games, you want to make sure that if you are going to make a change, it’s the right one. For the most part, the guys have been battling through it. It’s been one-goal games, not games that leave you soul searching.
Though, coming in as an underdog last weekend against the Peoria Rivermen and taking both games– one in OT and one in a decisive 7-3 win– the FireAntz may have finally been able to figure it out and how to win under Coach Olauson’s system of play. Defenseman Zach Carriveau pretty much said as much after Saturday’s win when he talked to the Fayetteville Observer:
This was the culmination of it coming together finally for us. We know in our room we have the guys that are going to produce this more than we have previously. This was not a shock to anyone in that room.
The big test could be this weekend’s home-and-home against Huntsville, who are behind the FireAntz in the standings. These are games that the FireAntz can and probably should win, but when you deal with the lower half of the SPHL– nothing is certain. The Columbus Cottonmouths were winless and in dead-last, but are currently on an eight-game win streak that has them in the thick of things for the battle of the top. With this transition, the FireAntz could very well be the next team in the league to make a huge run.
One of the things to look at is how Matt Robertson, a cast-off of Huntsville and Louisiana, will fit into the equation. Robertson is a guy that Olauson said he wanted to get in the off-season, but the price was too high for him. Now that he was released, Olauson can get him for free and not have to release anyone with Darcy Vaillancourt going to Germany this week, as well as tactfully leaving open a veteran roster spot just in case. Robertson has had a tough year with only three assists in 11 games between Huntsville and Louisiana; but he’s has three-straight 20+ goal seasons in the SPHL and can be a point-per-game player in the right system; which could make him the steal of the year for the FireAntz if they can get him going.
If that wasn’t enough for the week, the FireAntz leading scorer and star of the 7-3 thrashing they gave Peoria, Derek Elliott, won Easton SPHL Player of the Week honors; something that should hopefully keep him rolling offensively.
For a team with seven rookies on their roster and having missed the playoffs for three of the last four seasons– there needs to be some kind of change for the FireAntz to get back to their once prominence in the SPHL. Whether or not Emery Olauson can bring some stability to the team that has had five coaches in three seasons remains to be seen. However, the past weekend could have brought a new found confidence in this team that wasn’t expected to do much– especially with their horrid start to the season.