PEORIA, IL — History was made Friday night at Carver Arena, but not the kind of history the Peoria Rivermen were expecting. Despite falling behind early, the opening game of the 2017 SPHL Presidents Cup Final belonged to the Macon Mayhem. The visitors won their first-ever game in Peoria after six losses, with a come-from-behind, 2-1 victory at Carver Arena.

As they have all postseason, the Peoria Rivermen got off to a blazing fast start. Mike Colantone got the Rivermen on the board early when Connor Gorman, muscling past a Daniel Gentzler check attempt at the blue line, found Colantone in front of Jordan Ruby’s crease at the 1:35 mark. Gentzler would atone for his misstep later in the game.

The Rivermen continued their frenetic early pace, requiring Ruby to stop some grade-A Rivermen scoring chances. Peoria got eleven pucks through to the Macon netminder by the middle of the opening frame. The pace slowed down in the second half of the period, with Macon beginning to get their transition game on track. However, the Mayhem never had any threatening scoring chances in the first 20 minutes of play.

Macon coach Kevin Kerr went into the first break with the task of slowing down the line of Dakota Klecha, Colantone, and Gorman. In a way, Kerr was able to slow down the pace in the second period. The physicality between both teams ramped up a bit during the middle frame, with six penalty minutes issued to both teams over five infractions. Both Ruby and his Peoria counterpart, Storm Phaneuf, were able to turn aside scoring chances.

Ruby and Phaneuf, the goaltenders in this year’s Presidents Cup Final are a study in contrasts. The two netminders, both excellent in their own way, play completely different styles. Ruby, 26, plays a conventional style, staying within his crease most of the time. The 21-year-old Phaneuf, on the other hand, plays with an athletic flair bordering on youthful recklessness.

Given the number of prime scoring chances through the first two periods, the visiting Mayhem were lucky to go into the final regulation period being down only one goal. The final act began with Macon carrying the momentum, and the confidence which comes with taking a team’s best shot and remaining upright. By the time the first media timeout arrived, the Mayhem – on their heels in the beginning – were in complete control of the game. It was only a matter of time before the momentum shift paid off.

The Mayhem’s hard work paid dividends soon after when rookie forward John Siemer scored his first postseason goal as a pro by sneaking a shot short side between Phaneuf and the post, leveling the game with 13:33 remaining.

It’s not often when special teams decide a playoff hockey game, but a mid-period tripping call on Adam Stuart gave the Mayhem exactly the break they needed. Gentzler’s one-time slap shot from the blue line whizzed past a screened Phaneuf and the Mayhem – completely outclassed after the first 20 minutes – took their first postseason lead against Peoria since Jake Trask’s game-winning goal in Game 1 of last year’s first-round series.

The Rivermen had one prime opportunity to even the game when Siemer was called on a delay-of-game penalty with 4:08 in the game. The Macon penalty killing units stepped up huge, allowing zero shots during Peoria’s power play. Peoria’s offensive prowess would only manage one more shot on goal once Phaneuf was called for a sixth skater and the Macon Mayhem return to their home rink needing only one more win to claim their first Presidents Cup.

If the Rivermen are to make history and claim their first SPHL Presidents Cup, they are going to have to make history. No team losing the opening game of a final series has come back to win the series. The second game will be played at 6:00 pm Eastern Time on Sunday at the Macon Coliseum. Should Peoria win on Sunday, the deciding game will be held on Monday, May 1st, at 7:30 pm ET in Macon.

Tonight’s Three Stars

★ – Daniel Gentzler – Macon Mayhem
★★ – Jordan Ruby – Macon Mayhem
★★★ – Connor Gorman – Peoria Rivermen

Scoring Summary

First Period

1:35 – Peoria – Michael Colantone (Connor Gorman)

Second Period

No Scoring

Third Period

6:27 – Macon – John Siemer (Matt Johnson, Ryan Michel)
10:49 – Macon – Daniel Gentzler (Power Play) (Ryan Michel, Matt Summers)

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