LAFAYETTE, La. — We’re finally in the homestretch of the 2017-18 season and less than a month until the start of the 2018 SPHL Presidents Cup Playoffs. Only four weekends remain in the regular season and as of now only one team has clinched a playoff spot and another team is already looking forward to next year. Today, we give y’all a team-by-team look at the rest of the regular season and beyond. Use the back/next buttons (or swipe left/right on your mobile devices) and check out all of the teams’ postseason prospects.
1. Birmingham Bulls
Record: 20-22-5 – 9th in SPHL (8-2-0 in last ten games)
Cool Vegas-ish Nickname: Vegasham. 2/10 I will not eat it Sam-I-Am.
MVP Candidate: Mavric Parks (G) – During the expansion franchise’s early days, the netminder singlehandedly carried the Bulls and earned his ECHL promotion to the Kansas City Mavericks.
If You Like This Team, You’ll Love The Los Angeles Kings. Defensive-minded, hard-hitting, and on the playoff bubble.
Big Games Coming Up: All of them. Currently three points behind Mississippi and Roanoke for the last playoff spot, the Bulls have little margin for error if they want to avoid tee times in April. The upcoming game against Roanoke on March 17th stands out as the watershed game for the rest of the season.
Playoff Outlook: The Bulls are finishing the season as one of the strongest teams in the league, with the capability of knocking off teams like Peoria and Pensacola with regularity. If the Bulls make it into the playoffs, they will be a team to possibly pull off an upset or two.
2. Evansville Thunderbolts
Record: 22-18-7 – 6th in SPHL (3-5-2 in last ten games)
Cool Vegas-ish Nickname: Evv-Vegas. 8/10 great keno game here.
MVP Candidate: Tomas Sholl (G) – Sholl has proved to be irreplaceable for the Thunderbolts. The team has won only one game since Sholl was called up to the Adirondack Thunder (later traded to the Idaho Steelheads) on January 24th. Sholl is the hottest goaltender in pro hockey – his last regulation loss (in any league) was on December 2nd, a record of 15-0-4.
If You Like This Team, You’ll Love The Edmonton Oilers. Years of futility… check. High expectations… check. Monumental collapse… check.
Big Games Coming Up: The Bolts got four big points last weekend in Fayetteville and need to keep up the momentum on Friday night when the Birmingham Bulls come to visit.
Playoff Outlook: The Thunderbolts started off the season as a team ready to be among the league’s elite teams, but the late collapse doesn’t give us a lot of confidence they have the tools to make a deep playoff run… unless Sholl returns to the Ford Centre.
3. Fayetteville Marksmen
Record: 10-31-6 – 10th in SPHL (0-10-0 in last ten games)
Cool Vegas-ish Nickname: Fayette-Vegas. 6/10 cannot defend this.
MVP Candidate: Jake Hauswirth (C) – The veteran forward with the booming shot has consistently been among the league’s scoring leaders all season. Currently, with 55 points (21G/34A), Hauswirth is having his best statistical season since his Louisiana years.
If You Like This Team, You’ll Love The Arizona Coyotes. Great golf courses in the area with available tee times.
Big Games Coming Up: Since the Marksmen are in full-blown spoiler mode, any game against teams like Evansville, Mississippi, and Roanoke are big ones.
Playoff Outlook: The Marksmen were big sellers at the trade deadline in an effort to build for next season.Whether interim coach John Bierchen or someone else helms the squad next season, acquiring defensive assets will be a priority for 2018-19.
4. Huntsville Havoc
Record: 26-14-7 – 3rd in SPHL (5-2-3 in last ten games)
Cool Vegas-ish Nickname: Hunts-Vegas. 9/10 Will open a casino here.
MVP Candidate: Sy Nutkevitch (C) – A veteran playmaker, Nutkevitch has been making his Havoc teammates look good for the past two seasons.
If You Like This Team, You’ll Love The Boston Bruins. It’s been a while since they’ve won a championship, but the Havoc are consistently in the title hunt.
Big Games Coming Up: Huntsville has a four-game homestand from March 16-24 where Mississippi, Knoxville, Roanoke, and Birmingham come visiting. How the team plays here will determine whether they get to pick a playoff opponent or not.
Playoff Outlook: Stuck in the muddled middle of the SPHL and unlikely to jump past Pensacola for second in the league standings, the Havoc will have a tough time getting through the first round. Huntsville should squeak past the first round, but getting through Pensacola or Peoria could be a bit too much to ask.
5. Knoxville Ice Bears
Record: 25-16-6 – 5th in SPHL (4-4-2 in last ten games)
Cool Vegas-ish Nickname: Knox-Vegas. 8/10 Almost as good as Nash-Vegas.
MVP Candidate: Berkley Scott (C) – One of the best players to have in big moments, the big veteran currently leads the SPHL in points (56) and second in goals (24).
If You Like This Team, You’ll Love The New Jersey Devils. Both teams won multiple titles in the past, have a high-scoring MVP-caliber forward, and have a Jekyll/Hyde personality.
Big Games Coming Up: The Ice Bears’ season-ending series against Pensacola will be a great baseline for the team going into the postseason.
Playoff Outlook: Knoxville may be the toughest team in the SPHL to handicap. When the team is clicking, they can take out any team in the league. Too often, however, the Ice Bears keep opponents in games – a dangerous proposition in playoff hockey.
6. Macon Mayhem
Record: 26-15-5 – 4th in SPHL (5-5-0 in last ten games)
Cool Vegas-ish Nickname: Mac-Vegas. 4/10 pretty cheesy.
MVP Candidate: Jake Trask (LW) – The fifth-year forward is closing in on 100 career SPHL goals and is having his best season ever. At 56 points, Trask is tied with Berkley Scott for the league scoring lead
If You Like This Team, You’ll Love The Toronto Maple Leafs. Both teams can score goals in buckets, while occasionally breaking down defensively.
Big Games Coming Up: The Mayhem have a six-game road stretch from March 15th to the 30th, with stops in Roanoke and Peoria.
Playoff Outlook: The defending champs will have the target on their back next month. Macon isn’t as strong in net as they were last season when they rode Jordan Ruby all the way to a title. Perhaps Macon gets out of the first round, but I’m having trouble seeing a long postseason run.
7. Mississippi RiverKings
Record: 23-22-2 – 7th in SPHL (5-5-0 in last ten games)
Cool Vegas-ish Nickname: South-Vegas-Haven. 5/10 great retirement community.
MVP Candidate: Devin Mantha (C) – The 5th year RiverKing has been the glue of the team for years. One of the league’s most consistent players, Mantha leads the RiverKings in goals, assists, and special teams points (including three shorthanded goals). Mantha’s ten power play goals lead the SPHL.
If You Like This Team, You’ll Love: The San Jose Sharks. A team with a veteran core, always in the postseason, and only once making it to a final.
Big Games Coming Up: The RiverKings three games against the Marksmen and one against the Thunderbolts are eight points the team needs to secure a playoff spot.
Playoff Outlook: Earlier in the season the Kings looked like an elite team. However, callups decimated the offensive and defensive assets, causing the team to slide down the standings. If the RiverKings get Dan Tedesco, Dillan Fox, and Vytal Cote back from the ECHL this team’s chances would improve significantly.
8. Pensacola Ice Flyers
Record: 28-12-5 – 2nd in SPHL (4-4-2 in last ten games)
Cool Vegas-ish Nickname: Vegas-Cola. 4/10 the thirst is real.
MVP Candidate: Garrett Milan (LW) – The rookie winger has been a firestarter for the Ice Flyers. Milan leads the league lead with 40 assists and has quickly made his name as a slick playmaker.
If You Like This Team, You’ll Love The Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams have won multiple titles recently and have a good chance to win again this postseason.
Big Games Coming Up: Next weekend’s two-game series with the Peoria Rivermen has been used as the team’s launching pad for past championships.
Playoff Outlook: No team has been hit by callups as hard as the Ice Flyers this season, but the team kept on rolling through the SPHL schedule. It finally seems the stress on the roster is taking its toll, as the Flyers are a bit grounded lately. Flyers coach Jeff Bes has had little success in the postseason with Fayetteville and Mississippi, getting out of the first round only once in his five previous seasons.
9. Peoria Rivermen
Record: 32-11-4 – 1st in SPHL (8-1-1 in last ten games)
Cool Vegas-ish Nickname: Vegasoria. 2/10 the alternative is just gross.
MVP Candidate: Alec Hagaman (RW) – One of the league’s peskiest players, Hagaman’s offensive game has taken off in his fourth pro season. The winger is among the league leaders in goals (22), assists (30), and leading the league in plus/minus (+32). Also, Hagaman is second to teammate Dave Pszenyczny in minor penalties with 43. Basically, Hagaman is a fantasy hockey god.
If You Like This Team, You’ll Love The Washington Capitals. Always at the top of the league’s regular season standings. *** Trigger warning *** Still looking to raise their first Cup.
Big Games Coming Up: The last time the Rivermen won in the Pensacola Bay Center was on January 21, 2015, and have dropped seven straight on the Gulf Coast. Next weekend, the Rivs make their annual trip south for two games. It’s time to get the monkey off of their back before the playoffs.
Playoff Outlook: Once again, the Rivermen enter March playing their best hockey. Currently with a strong grip on a third regular-season championship and their choice of opponent for the first round, it’s possible the Rivermen could make their third-straight appearance in the Presidents Cup Final.
10. Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs
Record: 21-21-4 – 8th in SPHL (7-2-1 in last ten games)
Cool Vegas-ish Nickname: Ro-Vegas. 3/10 sounds like male pattern baldness.
MVP Candidate: Steve Mele (C) – Mele has been a scoring machine this season and rapidly ascended to become an elite player in the SPHL this season. Mele has set career highs in goals and assists by large margins in the 2017-18 season and is fifth in league scoring with 52 points.
If You Like This Team, You’ll Love The Philadephia Flyers. Both are teams which got off to rough starts this season, only to turn around their seasons in the second half. Also, Steve Mele = Claude Giroux.
Big Games Coming Up: Next weekend’s tilt in Birmingham is suddenly one of the must-see games between two of the SPHL’s hottest teams, but coach Dan Bremner‘s return to Peoria on the last weekend of the season is going to be great.
Playoff Outlook: The hiring of Bremner is just what the Dawgs needed to turn their season around. Teams like Peoria and Pensacola may choose to avoid the long road trip to Roanoke in the first round, so don’t be surprised if the Dawgs make the semifinals.
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