MACON, Ga. – When the season reaches its latter stages, most playoff-bound teams typically have two goals: to find their stride, and improve their standing for the soon-arriving playoffs. The Macon Mayhem did both over the weekend.
Seeking to gain leverage in a fight for fourth in the SPHL standings (and challenge Huntsville for third), the Mayhem capped a three-game homestand with a pair of wins over Fayetteville, which entered the weekend in close quarters with Macon and Knoxville for fourth.
Mayhem Head Coach Leo Thomas said:
“We want to finish as high as we can; obviously getting home ice is huge. We just have to play like we did (Saturday) and take it one day at a time and don’t worry about standings, keep playing good hockey like we did (Saturday).”
Birmingham goalie Mavric Parks turned away all but one Macon shot on goal after the Mayhem started their stretch with a 3-1 loss to the Bulls Thursday night. Macon did not wallow in the dredges of defeat. Instead, the Mayhem were ready to go from the puck drop on Friday in what was in every bit of the word a physical contest. That tone was set early, when 29 seconds into the game, with the first of the game’s four fights broke out with Zach Urban helping to send a stern, early message.
The game of physical play and hard hits ended with a scrum at center ice, resulting in Macon’s Dakota Klecha and Alexander Taulien (as well as Fayetteville goalie Dillon Kelley) being suspended for the next night’s game. In between all of the crowd-inciting fights, Macon’s Josh Koeppinger showed that his first pro goal the night before in his pro debut was no fluke. Not only did he net a pair of scores, but his second was the lone goal in the third period, as his game-winner helped Macon get back on the winning track and deliver Tanner Creel his first win since coming to Macon. The rookie netminder stopped 37 of 40 shots. Urban and Derek Sutliffe also added scores for Macon in the win.
A night later against the same Fayetteville team, the job for Macon was not just to follow up the performance from the night before, but to stay focused following a physical contest on the task at hand — adding two more points to the Mayhem’s name. Coach Thomas commented on tempers flaring Friday heading into Saturday:
“The end of the game, I thought it was just two hungry teams needing points, and it just kind of boiled over. We knew we had to come in and just focus on getting two points. The boys came in, played hard, and ultimately got the two points that we needed.”
With Ian Sylves in goal and a night that turned into ‘The Josh Koeppinger Show’, Macon did just that. Sylves stopped all but one of the 32 shots that he faced, giving both Mayhem goalies a win within the same weekend. Wins by both goalies have been coming for quite some time, as Thomas has noted in recent weeks that Sylves and Creel have been playing well enough to win, but results have not worked in their favor. That trend changed over the weekend.
“Both of them have been playing well since they got here,” Thomas said. “Creel, we just have not been playing the right way in front of him. It’s huge for him to get his first win with us, they both played really well.”
Koeppinger? All he did was become involved in all five Macon goals, setting a team record with five points in a single game. Koeppinger’s tally included two goals, with Sutliffe scoring for the second night in a row. The on-ice chemistry between Jake Trask and John Siemer was also on full display, as back-to-back goals occurred first with Siemer scoring off a Trask helper, then the following Macon goal being scored by Trask with Siemer among those with an assist.
Now, the Mayhem’s goal is to sustain momentum from the weekend. The task starts next weekend with a pair of games at Fayetteville, then with Huntsville coming to Macon the weekend after. These two contests could help Macon pull even, if not, move uncontested into third place in the standings.