LAFAYETTE, LA — The Knoxville Ice Bears are a team which gives fans their money worth. The Ice Bears closed out their five-game homestand with their fourth overtime/shootout game – a 5-4 back-and-forth overtime win over their archrival Huntsville Havoc. After giving up a 3-1 first-period lead, the Havoc scored three unanswered goals and took a 4-3 lead after 40 minutes of play. Andrew Bonazza, a role player quietly becoming a major force, scored the game-tying goal in the third period. Finally, Berkley Scott scored his league-leading eighth game-winning goal at the 3:47 mark of overtime. Both teams will be in action tonight, with the Ice Bears visiting the Columbus Cottonmouths and the Havoc hosting the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.

Playoff Picture – Week 21

We enter the second weekend of March Mania with a bit of separation between the top and bottom halves of the league. We dropped our postseason threshold projection two points from 45-47 points to 43-45 after slow weekends by the Columbus Cottonmouths and Rail Yard Dawgs. Conversely, we have raised our projection for first-round home-ice advantage from 66-68 points to 68-70.

We still project the Macon Mayhem to take the William B. Coffey trophy for the SPHL’s best regular season record, although we’re unsure the team will reach our forecast total of 85 points. The projected top four playoff seeds round out with Huntsville, Peoria, and Fayetteville. The Rivermen’s strong performance against the Thunderbolts and Dawgs have moved them into third, supplanting Fayetteville. The Rivs and Antz will meet this weekend in a huge matchup, but merely a preview of the Antz visit to Carver Arena in three weeks. The four games between Peoria and Fayetteville is sure to settle the #3/#4 debate.

Finally, with the Ice Bears seemingly locked into the #5 seed and the Ice Flyers, heading into a crucial road trip to Evansville, now challenging the RiverKings for the #6 position, we’re left with Columbus and Roanoke continuing to battle for the final playoff spot and a predicted date with the Mayhem. The Snakes’ two games in hand over Roanoke should be the difference. However, it won’t be until the two teams meet later in the month when the final ticket to the dance will be punched.

Tonight’s Games

Knoxville Ice Bears at Columbus Cottonmouths

  • Tonight is the final game in the six-game season series between the Ice Bears and Snakes. Columbus holds a 3-2-0 advantage in the season series.
  • The Ice Bears lead the league in shorthanded goals with eight. However, against the Cottonmouths, the Snakes hold a 1-0 advantage.
  • The Snakes are a perfect 5-0-0 at home when leading after two periods. Knoxville has the league’s best record of 2-5-0 when trailing on the road after 40 minutes.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: If it’s Knoxville, you know it’s going to overtime. 4-3 Ice Bears, in overtime, and Neugold gets the game winner. Rioting ensues.

Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs at Huntsville Havoc

  • The teams meet for the final time this season, with the Havoc going a perfect 5-0-0 in the series.
  • Plenty of roster turmoil in Roanoke right now. Injuries continue to be an issue with Matt Chiarantano being moved to season-ending IR. As of Thursday, the Dawgs are two blueliners short with Mitch Mueller‘s dismissal and Travis Jeke not reporting to Roanoke after being released from his ECHL obligations. Winger Mike Moroso (8G/9A in 36 games) was also released. Goaltender Ryan de Melo remains on the 14-day IR.
  • Injuries, especially on defense, continue to hinder the Havoc. Zach Carriveau was shut down for the season today and Justin Tateson continues to be missed on the Huntsville blue line. At forward, leading scorer Sy Nutkevitch remains out of the lineup, Mike Piluso was placed on the 21-day IR, Lou Educate was shut down for the season last week and forwards Johnny Daniels (Wheeling) & Dylan Nowakowski (Cincinnati) remain in the ECHL. Neither Daniels nor Nowakowski is expected to return anytime soon.
  • Blake Hietala has been impressive for the Havoc since his SPHL return. The forward has four assists in three games since his release from the ECHL Kalamazoo Wings.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: I’m all about consistency. Huntsville 5, Roanoke 3.

Pensacola Ice Flyers at Evansville Thunderbolts

  • The season series shifts to the Ford Center for the third of four games between the all-aviation rivals. Pensacola won both previous meetings last weekend at the Hangar.
  • In the nine games since being picked up by the Thunderbolts, Tyler Gjurich has a goal, two assists, and a -8 rating.
  • Former ECHL veteran Aaron Clarke has quietly put up a respectable first season in the SPHL. Clarke has six points (2G/4A) over his last five games.
  • Dave Williams continues to be the bright spot for the Bolts. Williams has 11 points (7G/4A) over his last ten games.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: Good teams win the games they’re supposed to win. Pensacola needs four points in Evansville if they’re going to move up in the standings. Pensacola 4, Evansville 2.

Tomorrow’s Games

  • Title Belt Game: Macon at Columbus – 7:30 ET
  • Peoria at Fayetteville – 7:30 ET
  • Knoxville at Huntsville – 7:00 CT
  • Pensacola at Evansville – 7:15 CT
  • Roanoke at Mississippi – 7:30 CT

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