FAYETTEVILLE, NC – The Fayetteville FireAntz were hoping to end 2016 with a statement win and continue their surge up the standings. The first place Macon Mayhem, however, had other ideas and handed the FireAntz a 4-1 defeat on New Year’s Eve. Rookie Mayhem goalie Troy Passingham provided the Mayhem with a much needed solid performance while the top two goalies of the Mayhem are on call-ups to the ECHL.
Outside of FireAntz forward Jake Hauswirth‘s team leading and tied for league leading 5th power play goal in the opening period, the FireAntz were not able to get anything past the intimidating Passingham, who stands over 6’5″. While the Mayhem protected the front of the net and kept all rebounds and second chance shots to a minimum, FireAntz goalie Sean Bonar was hung out to dry on a couple of Mayhem goals. After Mayhem forward Jake Trask put a shot past Bonar, the Mayhem swarmed the FireAntz net and quickly put two more on the board. Daniel Echeverri snuck in from the blueline on the PP and deposited a puck into the empty net behind Bonar to make the score 2-1 Mayhem and then a few minutes later, power forward Stathis Soumelidis was left all alone in front of Bonar and ripped his own rebound past Bonar to give the Mayhem a 3-1 lead. While the Mayhem were trying to kill the clock in the final period, the FireAntz pressed hard but could not find any momentum before Daniel Gentzler sent a puck into an empty net while killing off a 6 on 4 man advantage.
The loss drops the FireAntz record on the season to 11-9-1, good for 23 points and a 6th place position in the standings. The Mayhem jumped to 17-3-3, good for 37 points and a tie with Huntsville for first place in the SPHL.
Now let’s take a look at the SPHL teams and where they ended 2016.
- Macon Mayhem: The Mayhem, in their 2nd season in the SPHL, are proving to be quite the force to be reckoned with. They have two of the top goalies in the league in Garrett Bartus and Jordan Ruby. And when they are called up, the team has rookie goalie Troy Passingham ready to be called up and step in and he has proven to be more than capable. On offense, rookie John Siemer has been remarkable and is one of the top snipers in the league. The Mayhem have an incredible 10-1-1 road record this season as well and are definitely a team that will contend for the title when at full strength.
- Huntsville Havoc: The Havoc are showing the rest of the league how to do it both on and off the ice this season. The team is the most lethal on offense in the SPHL this season so far scoring 92 goals in 23 games. The Havoc have 5 of the top 10 scorers in the league in Dylan Nowakowski, Sy Nutkevitch, Lou Educate, Johnny Daniels, and Jordan Wood. The team also has a great goalie tandem in Adam Courchaine and rising rookie star Tyler Steel. Off the ice, the Havoc have had back to back sellout crowds and are averaging a league-best 4,311 per game.
- Mississippi Riverkings: The Riverkings statistically speaking are respectable in about every category although nothing stands out. They, however, keep winning and have equally good home and road records. The team has the SPHL points leader in Cullen Bradshaw and forward Mike Moran is becoming one of the top goal threats with 14 goals so far this season. Mississippi is also solid in net with Peter Di Salvo and Brad Barone and is coached by a great defensive player in Landmesser and always play a tough checking style.
- Peoria Rivermen: Since entering the SPHL, the Rivermen have been one of the best teams in the league under the direction of Jean-Guy Trudel. After a slow start, Trudel cleaned house and has the Rivermen right back in the mix. Though not flashy, Trudel’s team plays a disciplined defensive system and capitalizes on offensive chances. The team gets contributions from everyone and they do not have the star player many teams rely upon. Rookie goalies Tyler Parks and Tyler Green have stabilized the goalie position. Rookie forward Dakota Klecha leads the team in points with 18.
- Knoxville IceBears: The IceBears are a veteran-heavy team this season that has shown some flashes of greatness and continues to be one of the better teams in the league. The team has 10 players with at least 10 points so the team is balanced on offense. Defense has been a strength of this team however so far this season. The IceBears have been riding goalie Brian Billett in net who has posted a solid 2.57 GAA and .923 saves percentage. Also, the IceBears have the best PK in the league killing off penalties at a stellar rate of 92.79 percent. An odd stat…IceBears points leader Danny Cesarz has 20 points with all of them being assists.
- Fayetteville FireAntz: Coach Jeff Bes, in Trudel type fashion, also cleaned house after a 6 game losing streak early in the season. It worked because the FireAntz have gone 8-3-1 in their last 12 games. Jake Hauswirth, one of the additions, has been an offensive spark for the team. He has 19 points and 5 power play goals. Other additions that have sparked the offense include veteran forward Bobby Chaumont and defenseman Kyle Shapiro. Goalie Sean Bonar has been a workhorse in net appearing in 17 games. This team could be a dark horse contender as the season progresses but will have to prove itself against teams like Huntsville and Peoria, neither of which they have played as of yet.
- Pensacola IceFlyers: After winning the President’s Cup championship last season, a new coach and a lot of new faces have the IceFlyers off to a slower start this season. The team has struggled on offense and defense this season. Forward Corey Banfield had an MVP season last year but has struggled to find the same scoring touch this season without his partner in crime Adam Pawlick. The team needs to find some offense to help out goalies Matt Zenzola and John McLean, who both have respectable numbers in net.
- Evansville Thunderbolts: The expansion Thunderbolts have found things tough in their first season in the SPHL. They have a winning percentage of .380 and have allowed a league-high 88 goals. Despite that, rookie goalie Tanner Milliron has been one of the best players for Evansville. His 2.49 GAA and .920 saves percentage are exceptional on a team that gives up so many offensive chances. They are led in scoring by Justin McDonald who has 16 points.
- Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs: The expansion Rail Yard Dawgs have struggled as well in their first season in the league but have an offensive star in forward Tyler Gjurich. Gjurich has 19 points with 10 goals, many of the highlight reel variety. Defense has been a problem for the young Roanoke team as they have allowed 79 goals in just 21 games.
- Columbus Cottonmouths: Not much to say here as the Cottonmouths have only won 6 games so far this season good for 13 points and last place in the SPHL. An anemic offense that has only scored 42 goals and a poor home record where the team has only won 2 games at home has the Snakes searching for answers. Coach Bechard is not a coach to make a ton of changes but roster moves are needed if the Cottonmouths are going to find their way out of the cellar of the league standings.
Sin Bin FireAntz Predictions:
The Huntsville Havoc will win the regular season title and end the season with at least 90 points in the standings.
The Fayetteville FireAntz will continue their climb in the standings and end up 3rd in the regular season, behind only the Havoc and the Mayhem.
The Columbus Cottonmouths and the Evansville Thunderbolts will be the bottom two teams and miss the playoffs.
The Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs will get hot and continue to improve and finish 7th in the standings, ahead of Pensacola who will finish 8th.