LAFAYETTE, LA — The Southern Professional Hockey League does not have a midseason classic, so last year, I put together a just-for-fun project during the all-star season where I drew up my own SPHL All-Star Team in a fictional game against a team of the FHL’s best. The article was so well received; I decided to ramp it up a notch for season two. This year, I received the support from our other SPHL writers and Mike Finazzo, Jimmy Gentry, Dawne Walters, and Matt Harding all were happy to submit their 21-man squads. We opened up three of the slots on this mythical team to you, the fans, and you delivered the wildest two weeks in our website’s history. You submitted over 86,000 total votes over the 15-day voting period and selected Danny Cesarz, Daniel Echeverri, and Brad Barone as your fan selections.
You fans have spoken. My fellow writers have spoken. Now, it’s my turn.
Like my compatriots, this team consists of 12 forwards, six defensemen, and three goaltenders (Sorry, Harding… NO SUBSTITUTIONS). There is representation from each of the SPHL’s ten teams. Skaters must have appeared in at least 15 games, and goalies must have at least ten game appearances to be considered.
Unlike some of my friends, I didn’t pay much attention to the listed forward positions on the SPHL website. Therefore, my four forward lines are (by design) a bit center-heavy, and I didn’t hesitate to shift some of these guys out of their listed position as needed. As former IceGators GM Lou Dumont told me, “If the best player on your team isn’t a center, you’re in trouble.” No worries here. These line combinations feature six centers, with two playing out on the wings.
Line 1: Kings of Mayhem
Mike Moran (MRK) – Berkley Scott (KNX) – John Siemer (MAC)
In a word, this combination is pure clutch. This trio has a combined 14 game-winning goals between them and 80 points (38 goals, 42 assists). Scott is my mid-season MVP pick (Spoilers, y’all!) and provides the savvy, playmaking presence to complement the snipers on both wings. I want this line on the ice in big moments, either when setting up a little offensive zone magic or winning a defensive zone draw – no problem, this line does everything well.
Line 2: Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!
Johnny Daniels (HSV) – Sy Nutkevitch (HSV) – Riley Spraggs (PEN)
Huntsville Havoc teammates on one line? Why not, it’s worked pretty well this season. This group has only two jobs to do… score early and score often. Most of my fellow writers would have Lou Educate – a natural left winger and the league’s leading goal scorer – on the left side. However, Daniels has been on fire since being traded to the Havoc last month – scoring 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 14 games, while being held pointless in only two games. Like Scott, Nutkevitch is the veteran anchor to this combination, while Spraggs and Daniels create chaos around the net with their speed.
Line 3: Jacks of all trades
Justin MacDonald (EVV) – Cullen Bradshaw (MRK) – Massimo Lamacchia (RNK)
Our first two lines are six of the most talented offensive and two-way players in the SPHL. I wanted a change-of-pace grouping here. A line who can play the possession game, grind it out in the corners, and wear opponents down. MacDonald and Lamacchia are pit bulls in the corners with Bradshaw directing traffic on the cycle. These are the guys you want when you need to give your top lines an extended breather or make a defensive zone stand.
Line 4: You wanna play rough? Okay.
Cody Dion (PEO) – Tayler Thompson (FAY) – Derek Gingera (COL)
This line is big and nasty, just like a checking line should be. Then again, how many checking lines have 25 goals and 33 assists between them? If opponents start getting salty and need an attitude adjustment, take your pick from these three guys.
Sorry I snubbed you…
- Everyone else on the Huntsville Havoc, especially Dylan Nowakowski, Lou Educate, and Jordan Wood. After 30 games, the Havoc are only one point behind last season’s Peoria Rivermen for the SPHL’s best-ever record. I could have easily gone six-deep using Havoc forwards.
- Jake Hauswirth (FAY), Joe Manno (KNX), Dakota Klecha (PEO) and Tyler Gjurich (RNK). I wish I could roll with five lines.
Top Pair: Stuart Stefan and Nolan Kaiser (HUN)
Stu Stefan is the lone holdover from last season’s squad. This year, I pair him with teammate Nolan Kaiser. This duo has combined for 11 goals and 29 assists and a +41. Kaiser currently leads all blueliners in scoring with six goals and 18 assists. Stefan is as steady and as experienced as defensemen come in this league. Unless you’re…….
Second Pair: Jason Price (KNX) and Chris Leone (MRK)
…..Jason Price of the Ice Bears. The 11-year veteran is closing in on 500 SPHL games played and is putting together his best overall season in years. He’s the classic big-bodies two-way defenseman. Price gets paired up with Leone, a guy who developed his game quickly under Derek Landmesser’s tutelage with the RiverKings.
Third Pair: Ryan Michel (MAC) and Don Olivieri (PEO)
I saved my favorite, most interesting pairing for last. I’d love to see what a pair of blueliners with 200-foot games can do together. Both Michel and Olivieri are solid skaters, good puck movers, and can create in the offensive zone.
I’ll probably kick myself for not including you…
- Zach Carriveau (HUN) – The only reason Carriveau is left off is I just didn’t want to over-Havoc my roster.
- Nick Grasso (MAC), Mike Grace (MRK), Sean Gammage (PEN), Travis Armstrong (RNK) – I could create a second all-star team with these guys.
This league has a ton of goaltending talent. I could have thrown three darts at a list of our top ten netminders and have a backstop group which could win. I couldn’t even consider guys like Garrett Bartus (MAC), Lukas Hafner (COL), Drew Fielding (PEN), Brandon Anderson (RNK), and Peter Di Salvo (MRK) – all playing in the ECHL right now – because they haven’t played enough SPHL games. So… I played it safe.
Sean Bonar (FAY): 13-10-0, 3 shutouts, 2.18 GAA, .921 SV%
Bonar struggled earlier in the season during Fayetteville’s losing streak but has returned to form over the past six weeks as the league’s premier goalie. Bonar leads the league in appearances, wins, shutouts, and GAA.
Jordan Ruby (MAC): 8-3-2, 2.20 GAA, .929 SV%
Ruby had a great rookie season in Huntsville last season and followed up with a solid sophomore season. When Bartus was called up by Fort Wayne, Ruby stepped up and became the workhorse. Ruby took a three-week call-up to the South Carolina Stingrays and won his lone appearance, stopping 18 of 19 shots.
Tyler Steel (HUN): 11-3-0, 2 shutouts, 2.31 GAA, .934 SV%
Steel has seven straight victories since his last loss on November 26th and boasts the league’s top save percentage. Look for Steel to regain his position as Huntsville’s top netminder when he returns to action from injured reserve.
If I had to pick an injury replacement…
I will not play it safe with this pick. Evansville’s Tanner Milliron (7-10-1, 2.73 GAA, .916 SV%) has impressed me since the first time I saw him on opening night. He’s big, steady, and can take over a game.
Behind the Bench
If there’s a “guy” who can get a team prepared to play a game like this on short notice, Peoria coach Jean-Guy Trudel is the perfect “guy” for the job. Coach Guy’s teams play disciplined within their systems and specialize in locking down the blue line.
I couldn’t think of a coach to manage the speed of this team’s forward lines than Huntsville’s Glenn Detulleo. The Havoc’s bench boss has turned his team from a disastrous season in 14-15 into the SPHL’s powerhouse, and Detulleo has done it with the quickest lineup I’ve ever seen in this league.
There you have it, folks. Over this past week, we have revealed how we would have constructed our ideal SPHL All-Star teams. In tomorrow’s special podcast episode, Matt Harding, Dawne Walters, and Jimmy Gentry and I hash out our 21-man roster. I hope you all have enjoyed making your fan selections and I thank you for your 86,000-plus votes during our fan voting. See you tomorrow as we reveal our 2017 SPHL All-Star Team!