MACON, Ga. – For the third game in a row, the Macon Mayhem tapped Ryan Ruck to start between the pipes as they close in on clinching the William B. Coffey Cup, awarded to the team with the best regular-season record in the SPHL.
The result was similar as the past two times out as he gave up just one goal, helping Macon to extend its winning streak to six games in a 3-1 win against Pensacola on Thursday at the Macon Coliseum. All told, Ruck stopped 31 of the 32 shots that he faced on Thursday. Ruck’s 1.95 GAA is third in the SPHL, one spot behind teammate Jake Theut. That gives Mayhem head coach Kevin Kerr a good problem to have – deciding which goalie to play.
The victory reduces the Mayhem’s magic number to clinch the best regular-season record to three. Any combination of points earned by Macon (26-5-5, 46 points) or those failed to be earned by Knoxville totaling three will clinch the Coffey Cup for Macon, Since Knoxville’s next game is Saturday, that is also the earliest day that Macon can possibly clinch. Pensacola (14-16-5, 33 points) holds a six-point lead ahead of Birmingham for fourth place.
The Mayhem handily beat the Ice Flyers 5-0 and 9-3 last weekend, but the challenge was a lot more stiff this time as the Ice Flyers opened the game playing a determined and physical brand of hockey. The Mayhem led 1-0 6:25 into the game when a Derek Topatigh shot deflected in front of the Pensacola goal right into the path of Brian Bowen. He smashed the puck past Ice Flyers goalie Jake Kupsky, and Macon led 1-0.
Even after Topatigh, off assists from Jason Tackett and Mason Baptista, made it 2-0 with 5:05 left in the first, the Ice Flyers did not relent. Unlike last weekend when the two teams met, an early deficit did not result in a runaway Mayhem win. In the final two periods, Pensacola outshot Macon 23-10 and had six power-play chances. That, however, is where Macon shined, killing off all but one power-play chance.
“We beat them handily last weekend, but we knew they were going to be coming,” Kerr said. “They were fighting for their lives to stay ahead of Birmingham and catch Huntsville. They have a great hockey team and use their speed well.”
The law of averages caught up with Pensacola 13 seconds shy of the third period’s 16-minute mark, when Alec Hagaman raced in to knock a loose puck in for what was the Ice Flyers lone goal. By then, Macon had built enough of a cushion, helped by Gabe Guertler’s short-handed goal 17:56 into the second.
“That was a playoff-style hockey game,” Kerr said. “We found a way, got a score early, and then Guertler’s goal kind of broke them a little bit.”
Macon hosts Pensacola at 6 p.m. on Friday. After that, the Mayhem host Huntsville on Saturday with Pensacola going to Huntsville on Tuesday.