WICHITA, KS – My education into the Southern Professional Hockey League continues and so far, it’s been a blast! Admittedly, before the start of the season, I knew very little about the league and its talent pool, except that multiple players were called up from there to the ECHL and Scott Darling played for the Louisiana IceGators at one time. So, as you might imagine, the task of putting together an SPHL All-Star Team seemed a little daunting, but it was fun and overall and I feel like I have a good squad — at least one that would probably beat Campos’ team anyway, which is really all that matters.
The selection parameters: 15 SPHL games for position players and 10 for goalies (In both instances by January 1st). The team was to have 12 forwards, six defensemen, and three goalies. The other rule to consider was that each team was to have at least one representative.
So when I sat down to grid out my team, I worked from the goal out, so that’s how this article will go.
Here goes nothing.
Sean Bonar (FAY)
Jordan Ruby (MAC)
Tyler Green (PEO)
I love goaltenders who have save percentages above .910 and can keep their goals against averages at 2.50 and lower.
The first two on this list are locks. Bonar has been hot recently for the FireAntz and his slow start may have just been due to the roster turnover in front of him, though it appears that has calmed down for the time being. If Bonar stays this hot, he will likely run away with the goaltender of the year honors.
Ruby has been the more consistent goaltender this season and has done a reasonable job filling the shoes that Garrett Bartus left when he was called up to ECHL Fort Wayne.
Perhaps the most deserving goaltender of the three is Tyler Green from Peoria. Once he was signed by Jean-Guy Trudel, it seemed he brought stability to the net and allowed Trudel to tinker with other positions on the ice. It doesn’t help either that Green has not lost in his last six appearances.
Zach Carriveau (HSV) – Nolan Kaiser (HSV)
Jason Price (KNX) – Stuart Stefan (HSV)
Zach Loesch (COL) – Louis Belisle (PEN)
For my defensive corps, I wanted guys who could distribute the puck and are good at keeping pucks in the zone, as evidenced by the +53 rating the six guys combine for. Physicality is generally a non-factor in all-star competition, so there was no need for a rugged defenseman, though if I needed one, Dave Pszenyzcny would be at the top of my list. It’s clear that this position is where I think Huntsville is the deepest in the league and it was hard to justify leaving Zach Carriveau, Nolan Kaiser, and Stuart Stefan all out, given their performances on the blueline this season.
The most intriguing pair to me is the duo of Zach Loesch and Louis Belisle. There, You have a pair that consists of a stay-at-home defenseman and a converted forward, both of whom have quite a bit of speed. They are former teammates in Pensacola, so there is also some familiarity there, too.
Now we are getting to the nitty gritty! For this part of the lineup, I didn’t stick to what position the player was playing according to Pointstreak, rather, I went with more natural fits based on what the player shoots. My fellow writers went with third and fourth lines that like to crash and bang, and if we were doing “what would your optimal SPHL team be?” that would be alright, but knowing that all-star games feature very little physicality, I chose to roll with four scoring lines.
First Line: Johnny Daniels (HSV) – Sy Nutkevitch (HSV) – John Siemer (MAC)
Yes, I know Daniels is a center, but he is a left-handed shot, so I wanted him on Nutkevitch’s left side. This is a line that will be a threat to score every single time they touch the puck. Nutkevitch has great vision and is a natural puck distributor, dating back to his days in the Central Hockey League when he was among the league leaders in assists during his time with the Fort Worth Brahmas. Siemer is one of the purest scorers in this league right now and is my favorite for rookie of the year, provided he keeps up the pace he as been on during the season’s first half.
Second Line: Jake Hauswirth (FAY) – Berkley Scott (KNX) – Riley Spraggs (PEN)
Again, this is a line with two natural centermen on it, but Hauswirth is a left-handed shot and has played some on the wing this season, so for my team, he will do it again. If I were to do a power play unit, this would be the first line for me, because you can plant Hauswirth in front of the net and let his big body wreak havoc and create vision problems for the netminder. In addition, you have two of the league’s leading scorers on the wings, and one of the best playmakers setting them up.
Third Line: Mike Moran (MRK) – Cullen Bradshaw (MRK) – Dakota Klecha (PEO)
This may be the most balanced line I have rolled out so far, in terms of offensive capabilities mixed with speed. This would be my second power play unit, because of their success with the man-advantage. Collectively, these three have combined for 24 power play points (11G, 13A) through the season’s first half. The one thing you also have with this line is a player like Klecha, who can go into the corners and get a little physical to win a battle if he needs to.
Fourth Line: Justin MacDonald (EVN) – Danny Cesarz (KNX) – Tyler Gjurich (RNK)
With this line, I wanted a group who can play a slow-it-down, possession type game if I needed to. Cesarz may be one of the best set-up guys in the SPHL and he has a pure sniper on his right in Gjurich, with a big-bodied forward on his left in Justin MacDonald, who can win battles in the corners.
I Snubbed Thee…
This is the part of the lineup where I have to get a comeuppance from fans for not selecting “their guy” to my all-star team. Obviously, there are two glaring omissions from this list, Lou Educate and Jordan Wood, both from Huntsville. While it would be easy to put everyone in that lineup on this team, the decision to leave those two off was tough. You really have to give Huntsville’s defense the credit they deserve.
Extended apologies also go to Cody Dion (Peoria), Joe Manno (KNX), Massimo Lamacchia (RNK), and Tayler Thompson (FAY) for the snub job. I deserve face washes from all of you.
Welcome to the “leading with my heart, not my head” part of this, but it would have been cool to see Tyler Barr make this team (believe me, I tried like HELL to get him on there…no dice.) Barr was ostracized from hockey last year but has made the most of his last chance with the Mississippi RiverKings this season. If he can stay under control, he will be a real asset for coach Derek Landmesser in the President’s Cup playoffs.
Who’s Your Coach?
We get two picks for coach and the first one goes to the coach of a team that was in the President’s Cup Finals last season, Jean-Guy Trudel from the Peoria Rivermen. Trudel is a detail-oriented, systems-first coach and his teams are great at playing defense-first.
The second one was a battle. Internally, I really wanted a decorated veteran player like Sam Ftorek to be on the bench, but it is extremely hard to turn away from the job that Glenn Detulleo is doing in Huntsville. In the last two years, he has resurrected the Havoc and made them into a league power by filling the lineup with speed and offensive talent.
How did I do? Let me know by dropping a comment below!
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