MOLINE, Ill. — Road trip planning has officially begun, as the SPHL released the schedule for the 2019-20 season. In a league of only ten teams, familiarity comes quickly between rivals, especially with travel budgets keeping road trips short. In their sophomore season, the Quad City Storm will be seeing more of distant rivals and less of familiar foes.
In comparison to last season, the Storm and Peoria Rivermen will only see each other 12 times — five times less than last year, including the preseason match-up. The next most common adversary for the Storm in the upcoming year will be the Evansville Thunderbolts, who will scuffle with the Storm ten times between October and April. With Peoria and Evansville being the closest teams to Quad City (due to Moline being the northernmost SPHL town), it’s little wonder that they will be the most frequent opponents.
Having fewer games against powerhouse Peoria, which dominated the Storm 13-3 throughout 16 games last season, might be a boon for the sophomore team. After finishing with an 18-33-5 record and only 41 points, this may be a good way for the Storm to pick up more points from other teams. Facing the same opponent too often only brews bad blood, which can quickly turn a game from a contest to havoc and fisticuffs. The most notable example of this from last season was the December 22 game, when the Rivermen came to visit at the TaxSlayer Center and racked up 92 penalty minutes. The Storm shared in the penalties, of course, accruing 107 minutes in penalties; most of these offenses occurred in the third period, during which there were four fights (with three occurring at the same time).
The Storm will also be seeing less of the Thunderbolts, however, which the Storm might not like. Last season, the two teams faced off 12 times, Quad City winning eight of those contests. If Evansville’s record from last season continues into the upcoming campaign, opponents against the lone Indiana-based team in the SPHL may be able to pick up several points. Teams playing the Thunderbolts, however, can’t expect easy victories, as underdog teams often fight harder.
Holiday hockey games are a tricky affair, as teams need to decide whether the potential of fans bringing family outweighs the risks of fans traveling and reducing attendance numbers. One holiday that always draws large crowds is Black Friday, however. Over the past four years, an average of just under 3,900 fans has watched post-Thanksgiving Day hockey at the TaxSlayer Center. With the Black Friday game not only being against Peoria, but also the first half of a home-and-home weekend, it’s sure to be a big crowd.
The season will be bookended for the Storm with games against in-state rivals the Rivermen, which means those two games are sure to be large draws. The schedule does seem more balanced this season compared to last, but there are a few weekends planned that, while good schedule-wise, might be bad for the team. In March, the Storm will be in Knoxville, TN, to take on the Knoxville Ice Bears, and then be off for four days before playing three-in-three in Roanoke, VA, against the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. Following that series, the Storm will return home for another three-in-three, this time against the Fayetteville Marksmen. Knoxville is on the way to Roanoke, with only 259 miles separating the two cities. On the other hand, 920 miles lie between Moline and Roanoke. It would make sense if the team was to stay out east during those four days, whether in Roanoke or Knoxville. While it would be expensive due to hotel costs, the question remains of whether or not it would be cheaper than having a bus transport back and forth.
Another issue with the back-to-back, three-in-three series is whether or not the team can stay uninjured enough to put a full bench out, especially in the last three weeks of the season. Last season, the Storm were riddled with injuries, some lasting from the beginning of the season. That’s the nature of the beast, however, and up to chance, so it’s difficult to predict whether that will affect this season or not.
The Storm’s schedule this year doesn’t look like an easy one, but it’s not a tough schedule either. A well-rounded schedule could make the difference between being in or out of the playoffs, and I think this year the Storm could very well see action after April 4.
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