The SPHL regular season concluded Saturday night, and the league will begin it’s three weeks of fury – the President’s Cup Playoffs – on Wednesday night. The league is unique with its three-game series format for all three rounds of the postseason. Eight of the SPHL’s nine teams qualified for the postseason, with the Columbus Cottonmouths being the lone team booking tee times. The first round of the playoffs feature a pair of great rivalries, a goaltender battle, and a youth versus experience matchup.

Join Matt Harding and myself at 7:00pm CT on tonight as we bring you Team Sin Bin’s SPHL President’s Cup Playoff Preview Show. We will go over the big stories from the SPHL season, and break down all four first round playoff series.

#1 Peoria Rivermen vs. #8 Macon Mayhem

Final Regular Season Records:
Peoria: 39-12-5 (83 pts. – Regular Season Champions)
Macon: 24-27-5 (53 pts.)

Game Schedule (All Times Local):
Game 1 – Wed, April 13 – Peoria at Macon 7:30 pm ET
Game 2 – Fri, April 15 – Macon at Peoria (Owens Center) 8:00 pm CT
*Game 3 – Sat, April 16 – Macon at Peoria (Owens Center) 7:30 pm CT
* – If Necessary

Season Series Recap: Peoria won the season series, 5-0-0. The Rivermen have outscored the Mayhem, 20-5, during the season series. Peoria center Adam Stuart leads all skaters in scoring with nine points (4G/5A). Peoria goalies Kyle Rank and David Jacobson have 1.00 GAA against Macon, Rank has the SV% edge on Jacobson, .969 to .964. Defenseman Mike Montrose leads the Macon in scoring against Peoria, with a goal and an assist. Shawn Skelly and Jake Trask, the Mayhem’s leading scorers, have been held to two assists between the high-scoring duo.

How Peoria wins: Despite three seasons of regular season success, the Rivermen have never advanced past the first round of the playoffs, bowing out to the Columbus Cottonmouths in 2014 and the Louisiana IceGators in 2015. Peoria cannot go into the playoffs overconfident and entitled. The Rivermen have a great set of defensemen, and they will have to stifle Macon’s offensively as they have during the regular season. Rookie forward Connor Toomey and veteran Mike Gurtler have been hot lately, and look to continue their solid play against Macon.

How Macon wins: The Mayhem can ill afford to play a fast-paced game against the offensive depth of the Rivermen. Macon have one of the best goalies in the league in Garrett Bartus – the league’s top goalie in save percentage. Look for the Mayhem to force Peoria into a defensive battle and ride Bartus to victory. The Macon will have to get goals somehow, and it will be up to centers Mark Rivera and Lucas LaBelle to open up space for Shawn Skelly and Jake Trask. The first game of the series will be in Macon – the Mayhem must take Game 1 before heading to Illinois.

Prediction: Peoria finally advances past the first round, 2-0.

#2 Pensacola Ice Flyers vs. #7 Huntsville Havoc

Final Regular Season Records:
Pensacola: 31-20-5 (67 pts.)
Huntsville: 26-26-4 (56 pts.)

Game Schedule (All Times Local):
Game 1 – Thu, April 14 – Huntsville at Pensacola 7:05 pm CT
Game 2 – Sat, April 16 – Pensacola at Huntsville 7:30 pm CT
*Game 3 – Sun, April 17 – Huntsville at Pensacola (at Columbus) 5:00 pm ET
* – If Necessary

Season Series Recap: Pensacola took the season series from Huntsville, 5-1-1. Both Pensacola and Huntsville have won one game in the series in a shootout. The Ice Flyers top scoring line of SPHL scoring leader Corey Banfield, Adam Pawlick, and Joe Caveney have combined for 25 points (12G/13A) against Huntsville. Pensacola goaltender Matt Zenzola – recently returned from the ECHL Evansville IceMen – is 2-0-1 with a 1.62 GAA and .942 SV% in three starts against the Havoc. Defensemen Nolan Kaiser and Stuart Stefan lead the Havoc in scoring against Pensacola with four points each. Havoc veteran goaltender Kevin Genoe is 2-4-0 in six starts against the Ice Flyers. The season series has been a chippy one, with both teams combining for 50.7 penalty minutes a game.

How Pensacola wins: The Ice Flyers are huge in net – literally – with 6’9″ John McLean and 6’5″ Matt Zenzola. The Banfield-Pawlick-Caveney line has been an offensive zone powerhouse this year. The budding chemistry between forwards Stephen Buco and Paul Rodrigues – recently returned from the ECHL – should give the Ice Flyers two potent scoring lines. If the Ice Flyers can get themselves into a good offensive rhythm, they can outscore anyone.

How Huntsville wins: Look for the Havoc to establish themselves physically in an effort to slow down the Ice Flyers offensively. Rookie of the Year candidate John Lidgett will need to anchor the Havoc in this series, especially with the loss of Jason Popek to injury. Kevin Genoe is an experienced goaltender, and should put forth a solid effort. However, since the ECHL Brampton Beast’s season has ended, Jordan Ruby could return to Huntsville to man the pipes in the postseason. Ruby was spectacular with Huntsville before his ECHL callup, with a 1.87 GAA and .933 SV% in eight starts for the Havoc.

Prediction: Pensacola’s offensive depth should prove the difference. 2-1.

#3 Mississippi RiverKings vs. #6 Louisiana IceGators

Final Regular Season Records:
Mississippi: 28-18-10 (66 pts.)
Louisiana: 26-26-4 (56 pts.)

Game Schedule (All Times Local):
Game 1 – Wed, April 13 – Louisiana at Mississippi 7:05 pm CT
Game 2 – Thu, April 14 – Mississippi at Louisiana 7:05 pm CT
*Game 3 – Sat, April 16 – Louisiana at Mississippi 7:05 pm CT
* – If Necessary

Season Series Recap: The IceGators have had plenty of success against the RiverKings, going 7-2-1 against their Mississippi Rivals. Look for plenty of bonus hockey in this series, as half of the ten game series have gone to overtime – including an epic 15-round shootout back in December. Linden Bahm has been spectacular against the IceGators, scoring eight goals with three assists. Louisiana spreads out their scoring, with Jake Hauswirth, Jeremy Boyer, and Luke Sandler each scoring five goals against Mississippi. Peter Di Salvo (1-1-2, 2.45 GAA, .920 SV% against Louisiana) is expected to get the postseason assignment against the Gators. Boston College product Brad Barone has been stellar against Mississippi, going 5-1-0 with a 1.47 GAA and a .959 SV% over six starts.

How Mississippi wins: The RiverKings will have to take chances in the offensive zone to mitigate their relatively weak defensive unit. Mississippi must figure out how to get turnovers in the neutral zone and generate odd-man rushes against Louisiana. Look for ECHL returnees Devin Mantha and Leo Thomas to give the RiverKings the spark on offense. Special teams may be the difference maker, but the Kings (8.5% PP) will need to get their power play going against Louisiana.

How Louisiana wins: The IceGators must keep themselves out of penalty trouble, as the disciplined RiverKings are the least penalized team in the league. When the RiverKings are in the penalty box, the Gators have converted at a respectable 20.0% rate. Forwards Zac Frischmon, Luke Sandler, and Jeremy Boyer have been very effective lately. However, Matt Robertson – back with the IceGators after spending the past two seasons with Fayetteville and Huntsville – has been playing with purpose since returning to Lafayette.

Prediction: Get ready for some bonus hockey in this series. Louisiana gets the upset, 2-1.

#4 Fayetteville FireAntz vs. #5 Knoxville Ice Bears

Final Regular Season Records:
Fayetteville: 30-21-5 (65 pts.)
Knoxville: 29-21-6 (64 pts.)

Game Schedule (All Times Local):
Game 1 – Fri, Apr 25 – Knoxville at Fayetteville 7:30 pm ET
Game 2 – Sat, Apr 26 – Fayetteville at Knoxville 7:35 pm ET
*Game 3 – Sun, Apr 27 – Knoxville at Fayetteville 7:30 pm ET
* – If Necessary

Season Series Recap: Both teams finished the regular season strong, with both teams going 6-2-2 over their final ten games. The FireAntz dominated the series at the beginning of the season, taking three of the first four games – all played at the Crown Center. When the series resumed in February, the Ice Bears took control and won the last five games between the teams – with the last four games being played at the Knoxville Civic Center. Goaltending has defined the series, with Sean Bonar – prior to his ECHL callup – went undefeated in three starts for Fayetteville. Once Brian Billett joined the Ice Bears, he has equaled Bonar’s mark in winning his three starts in the series. Current FireAntz starter Parker Van Buskirk has struggled against Knoxville, losing all five of his starts with a 3.38 GAA and .868 SV%. Knoxville enforcer Dennis Sicard is the unlikely goal scoring leader in the series with four goals.

How Fayetteville wins: After dropping the last five games to the Ice Bears, the FireAntz need to open the series with a victory. High scoring forwards Josh McQuade, Kyle Gibbons, and Nick Lazorko will need to solve Brian Billett early in the series. The FireAntz may get the services of Sean Bonar, as his Wichita Thunder are not in the ECHL playoffs. Bonar could be a game-changer in this series should he return to Fayetteville.

How Knoxville wins: Should Brian Billett falter, look for Ice Bears coach Mike Craigen to quickly go to veteran netminder Bryan Hince – perhaps the best big-game goalie in the league. Hince backstopped the Ice Bears to the President’s Cup championship last season with several spectacular performances. Look for the Ice Bears to rally around role players like defenseman Jason Price, enforcer Dennis Sicard, and scorer Garrett Vermeersch.

Prediction: This will be a very entertaining series, but experience should be the deciding factor. Knoxville, 2-1.

Projected Semifinal Series

#1 Peoria vs. #6 Louisiana
#2 Pensacola vs. #5 Knoxville

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