MACON, Ga. — The Macon Mayhem’s preseason camp begins in earnest on Wednesday with the first mandatory day on the ice for players.
Like any team as the dropping of the puck on a season approaches, there is no shortage of storylines to watch. Coming off a Presidents Cup Playoffs semifinal appearance and a title the year before, there are, no doubt, high expectations for the Mayhem.
As training camp begins, here are five things to watch for with the Mayhem.
New Year, New Coach
One big difference this year will be behind the bench. With Kevin Kerr taking the head coach position with Greenville in the ECHL, assistant coach Leo Thomas was promoted to replace Kerr.
Given the fact that Thomas was Kerr’s right hand for the past two seasons, the transition should not be too abrupt for the Mayhem’s returning nucleus. That said, one thing to keep an eye on will be if Thomas tweaks the Mayhem’s on-ice strategy on both ends of the ice.
Among the Macon Mayhem fan base, few players have been as popular as Dennis Sicard the past two seasons. The SPHL’s career leader in penalty minutes, Sicard was known in Macon as much for his physical bravado as he perpetual interactions with fans, young and old, off the ice.
Sicard, however, was unable to finish last season due to an elbow injury and is not on the team’s roster that was released earlier this week.
With Sicard’s absence, the question obviously becomes who’ll fill his role as the player most eager to send a physical message to the opposition and fire up the home crowd. Macon may have found that answer with the offseason addition of Alexander Taulien. In the past two years, he has logged 177 penalty minutes.
Sicard is not the only veteran absent from this year’s roster as training camp begins. Two players who were part of the team since the first season in Macon three years ago, defenseman Jeff Sanders and forward Daniel Gentzler (who also rotated to play defense at times last year) are also not on the opening roster. Their experience will be missed, but even more critical – their leadership within the locker room. They were the type of players that when a message needed to be sent within the team, Kerr didn’t have to worry about it – guys like them would handle it.
Who steps up to be that ‘clubhouse leader’ will be critical for the Mayhem. The existing veteran experience of Jake Trask and John Siemer will definitely be looked to, as well as the offseason adding of Louis Belisle.
Eye on Defensive Improvement
Scoring goals was not a problem last year for Macon as it led the SPHL with 214 goals. The other end of the ice was a source of frustration at times with the 174 goals ranking third in the league as defensive breakdowns riddled off and on during the season.
Obviously, the offseason additions of Jordan Ruby and Gordon Defiel are aimed at addressing that. Assuming that both are in the lineup on opening night, they will give Macon, on paper, one of the best goalie tandems in the league. Ruby backstopped Macon to the SPHL title two years ago and was the President’s Cup Finals MVP. Defiel last year was 13-5-1 with a 2.61 GAA with Pensacola.
The name to watch as well is the third goalie on Macon’s training camp roster – Christian Pavlas. Even if he’s not among the Mayhem’s top two goalies when camp wraps up, he could be looked to again this year if Ruby or Defiel are loaned to the ECHL or are injured.
If you take away the specter of ECHL signings or loans as the season goes on, Macon has one of the best rosters on the SPHL. Four of last year’s top five scorers return, and the President’s Cup Finals MVP of two years ago, Jordan Ruby has also returned to Macon.
The flip side of that is that three of those scorers alone got an invite to Greenville’s training camp – Trask, Stathis Soumelidis, Caleb Cameron. Given the fact that they were in an ECHL camp to start with, the chance has to be possible of them being loaned at some point to the next level.
Given the number of familiar names on ECHL camps, the way that Macon scouts talent as the year goes on to fill holes will be key.