#3 Peoria Rivermen vs. #4 Huntsville Havoc
Game Schedule (All Times Local):
Game 1 – Wednesday, 4/19/17, 7:05 PM at Peoria
Game 2 – Friday, 4/20/17, 7:00 PM at Huntsville
*Game 3 – Saturday, 4/21/17, 7:05 PM at Peoria
* – If Necessary
In the First Round…
The Peoria Rivermen found themselves matched up with a wounded and cornered Knoxville Ice Bears squad… and promptly put it out of its misery. The Rivs scored early and often on a Knoxville squad playing without their captain & best defenseman (Jason Price) and their starting goaltender (Brian Billett) due to league and team-imposed sanctions. Peoria managed to score within the first two minutes in both games and never looked back, sweeping the Ice Bears in businesslike fashion by scores of 4-1 in Peoria and 5-1 in Knoxville.
In their first round series, the Huntsville Havoc found the Mississippi RiverKings to be a suitable quarry. Havoc netminder Tyler Steel shined in the opening game, as the Kings peppered the goalie with 45 shots and controlled play for much of the contest. However, timely play by Huntsville proved to be the edge as they eked out a 4-2 win in Southaven.
With the Von Braun Center unavailable, play shifted to the Huntsville IcePlex for the remainder of the series. The middle game was a physical, penalty-filled affair with 60 minutes in box time evenly handed out to both squads. Mississippi’s Peter Di Salvo made 31 of 33 saves and Dillan Fox added two goals, including a shorthanded marker, to even the series.
The series finale was as dramatic a winner-take-all postseason game should be. After a scoreless first and each team trading the following four goals, Christian Powers got a rebound past Di Salvo with 1:16 remaining in regulation to send the Havoc to the semifinals.
When these teams played in the regular season… dinosaurs roamed the Earth. It seems like forever since the Havoc and Rivermen faced off. The teams last met on December 1st in Huntsville, a 3-2 overtime win thanks to Jordan Wood. The Rivermen are a squad far removed from when they hosted the Havoc to open the season, allowing Huntsville to score 11 goals over the two-game opening weekend set. In four games against the Rivermen, forward Jeff Jones had a goal with four assists. Jones, traded to Peoria in December, meets his former teammates for the first time.
When Peoria has the puck – Look for the Rivermen to control possession in the offensive zone and generate scoring chances from down low, attempting to get the weak-side forward or defenseman uncovered behind the defense. The Rivs have a trio of puck-moving blueliners – Dave Pszenyczny, Brandon Greenside, and Don Olivieri who can quarterback play from the point, and the depth to score from all three forward lines. They’ll match up against a hot goaltender in Steel and three of the better defensemen in the league, Huntsville’s Stuart Stefan, Nolan Kaiser, and Justin Tateson.
When Huntsville is in the offensive zone – The Havoc like to use their team speed to generate odd-man rushes and cycle forwards around for quick scoring opportunities. Center Sy Nutkevitch is one of the more creative playmakers in the league, look for Nutkevitch to team up with Christian Powers in big moments. Peoria is backstopped by rookie Storm Phaneuf, who hasn’t faced the Havoc since the Rivs’ disastrous opening weekend. Phaneuf has rebounded spectacularly since a stint in the FHL, going 13-4-3 with three shutouts, a 1.87 GAA and .932 SV% since. Look for veterans Christian Weidauer & Ben Oskroba along with rookie Nick Neville to get most of the defensive zone starts in front of Phaneuf.
Should it come down to special teams… it may very well depend on who the home team is. Peoria is far better on the power play (19.4%) and penalty kill (89.6%) at home, and fall off sharply (9.3%, 83.2%) when away from Carver Arena. The Havoc, however, are more consistent regardless of location. Should special teams be a factor in the series, it could be the difference when the teams meet in Huntsville for Game Two.
Peoria’s keys to winning:
- Be the more physical team. The series may hinge on which team can open up the most space for their forwards. Playing the body, finishing checks, and taking advantage of referees’ slow whistles in the postseason is to the Rivs benefit.
- Get Adam Stuart involved. The big forward wasn’t utilized much in the first round. Stu should be a constant presence on the low post this series, using his size to screen off defenders and goaltenders.
- Clog up the neutral zone. The Havoc like to stretch the defense with long passes and overall team speed. Forcing Huntsville into the dump-and-chase game plays and winning pucks down low plays to the Rivermen’s strengths.
Huntsville’s keys to winning:
- Survive the first ten minutes. The Rivermen will want to set the tone early and get Huntsville back on their heels. If the Havoc can deny Peoria the early score (or even get the first goal) in the opening period, it should open up some ice to operate as the pace settles.
- Dominate the zone time. Huntsville has the tendency to play at a fast pace, while Peoria is more methodical in their offensive approach. Should the Havoc be able to flip the script and gain the advantage in zone starts, it will force Peoria to play out of their comfort zone.
- Pressure Phaneuf into mistakes. The rookie for Peoria is one of the more athletic netminders in the league and comfortable playing pucks away from the crease. If the Havoc can goad him into making mistakes, it could lead to easy scoring chances in a series where just one can make the difference.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
Peoria should be the fresher team in this series, having played one fewer game and ending their first round series early. Look for home ice to play a role. Although Huntsville is marginally faster, Peoria has the size and defensive skill to slow them up. Besides… I’ve had the Rivermen as my title pick since October – no need to change now. Rivermen in three.
Who do you think will win this President’s Cup Semifinal series? Let us know!
Who will win this series?
- Peoria (53%, 28 Votes)
- Huntsville (47%, 25 Votes)
Total Voters: 53