There’s nothing like an arena filled with thousands of screaming schoolchildren to put a little life into an athletic team.
The Mississippi RiverKings had to get some of that energy when they took the Landers Center ice Tuesday morning to play the Huntsville Havoc in front of 6,134 youngsters from the Mid-South area in the first of two Face Off Field Trip school-day contests the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) team plays each season.
The vocal support would not turn out to be enough for the home team, however, as the visiting Huntsville Havoc throttled the RiverKings 4-2.
Circling the parking lot before the game, one could see buses from several area schools, including DeSoto County schools, North Panola and South Panola, Harrisburg and Marion, Ark. and the Durham Bus Services vehicles that carry students in the Shelby County school district, among others.
Face Off Field Trip is a program the RiverKings have offered the past several years since the team came to DeSoto County, dating back to the team’s time in the Central Hockey League and has now been continued since the franchise joined the SPHL.
What was just one game, played during school hours with a start time of 10:30 a.m., in the past few years has been expanded to two contests during the season, games that are part of the regular season schedule and count in the league standings.
The RiverKings do more with Face Off Field Trip than just serve “brunch with hockey,” however. Programs are specially done up with teaching moments inside and questions that underline a basic education idea and are connected to hockey are found on the video scoreboard during the game, such as how many gallons of water are used to fill and freeze an ice skating surface for a hockey game?
On that frozen ice, however, Huntsville would control the game from the start early with three goals before the horn sounded to end the first period of play.
Shawn Bates did the most damage with a three-goal hat trick. Bates scored the first of his goals at 4:28 of the period and put in another goal at 12:43 of the period.
In between, teammate Carter Shinkaruk also scored as part of the trio of red-lighters.
Bates would score again for Huntsville with a short-handed tally at 5:23 of the second period for a 4-0 Havoc lead.
That would be the last goal scored by Huntsville, however, as the RiverKings would finally awake and generate some offense with a pair of power play goals from Dillan Fox.
The first came at just under a minute after Bates’ final goal at 6:07 of the middle frame and the second one came with just 1:33 left in the game for the final result.
Mississippi, despite losing on the scoreboard, significantly outshot the Havoc by a 42-20 margin.
Devin Mantha aided Fox offensively with two assists, both on goals scored by Fox.
RiverKings’ goaltender Tyler Green took the loss with 16 saves on 20 shots allowed. Keegan Asmundson made 40 saves in picking up the victory for Huntsville.
With the win, Huntsville moved into a three-way tie with Mississippi and Evansville for third place in the SPHL standings, each with 20 points. They are three points behind second-place Peoria and four in back of frontrunner Pensacola.
Mississippi now starts a three-game road trip, with games Friday at Birmingham, Saturday at Roanoke and the following Friday at Peoria.
The next Face Off Field Trip game for the RiverKings will be Tuesday, Feb. 6, when the ‘Kings host the Macon Mayhem at 10:30 a.m.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.