MACON, GA — The 2016-17 Southern Professional Hockey League season came to an end Sunday night in the Macon Centreplex, with a team hoisting aloft the Presidents Cup for the first time. The Macon Mayhem, on Jake Trask’s second period cup-clinching goal and a stellar 39 save performance from goaltender Jordan Ruby. Macon’s championship is the city’s first professional sporting title, just two seasons since the team rebirth from the former Augusta RiverHawks.

The second and deciding game of the 2017 SPHL Presidents Cup Final immediately took a different tone from the opening contest. Both teams looked to establish their respective forecheck and play a more physical game. Referees Andrew Bruggeman and Walker Holton allowed the teams to play it through, only sending Cody Dion and Daniel Gentzler as the frustration got a little out of hand. Dion decked Gentzler in a scrum by the benches, drawing a roughing call while Gentzler got a minor of his own for embellishment.

The increased physicality by the Mayhem was rewarded later in the period when Dennis Sicard forced a defensive zone turnover, then taking the puck across the ice for a shot from the right circle at Peoria netminder Storm Phaneuf. Sicard didn’t get much on the shot, but Phaneuf was handcuffed by the off-speed attempt for the game’s first goal. The Rivermen were able to outshoot the Mayhem, 15-11, in the opening frame. However, most of Peoria’s shots were uncharacteristically from the outside, a result of an aggressive Macon backcheck.

When the middle frame opened, it looked as the Rivermen were going to get their fast-paced game going again. In a familiar scene, Peoria captain Dan Bremner got a solid right side rush going, and setting up a play from deep in the corner. His centering pass bounced around and finds the stick of Dion, perched on the left side of Ruby’s crease. Dion’s shot on the open side of the net finds its mark to tie the game only 1:52 into the second period.

The pace of the middle frame then slowed considerably. Both teams resorted to the clutching and grabbing which comes with playoff hockey, and were unable to get through the neutral zone cleanly. As the period wore on, the Mayhem began to get on track, resulting in their second goal of the game. Collin MacDonald, heading up a three-on-two rush, fired on Phaneuf from the right boards. MacDonald’s shot rebounded into the low slot, where John Siemer was waiting. Siemer’s shot bounced back… right onto the stick of the trailing Trask. The third attempt – the cup-clinching shot – gave the Macon a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish, as Trask got his fourth, most important goal of the postseason with a solid shot from between the circles. Despite what seemed as a slow period, the Mayhem got the majority of the 30 shot attempts throughout the second period.

The Rivermen, needing to get their game on track as the third period opened, came out with the kind of energy from a team trying to extend their season. However, the Macon Mayhem, playing with the kind of confidence from a team knowing they can take an opponents’ best shot, bent under the Rivermen onslaught, but not broke. The Mayhem defense, notably the pairing of Brandon Pfeil and Kristaps Nimanis, enforced the area around their netminder and kept the Rivermen from getting second chance shots. The game slowed considerably as the Mayhem was able to clear and ice pucks at every opportunity, doing just enough to keep fresh legs on the ice after long defensive shifts. As the clock began to wind down, Peoria’s hopes of extending the game began to fade, as they were unable to crack the front of Ruby’s net. Finally, the clock ran out and a new Southern Professional Hockey League champion was crowned.

SPHL Commissioner Jim Combs walked onto the ice to a good-natured booing which comes to all pro league directors, ready to hand out the hardware. The night’s first trophy, the most valuable player of the postseason, predictably went to Ruby. The second-year netminder, playing his first season with the Mayhem, made 62 of 64 saves throughout the championship series – a  stellar 1.00 goals against average and a .969 save percentage.

Combs then handed off the Presidents Cup over to veteran Macon captain Matt Summers for a quick skate off. Summers then hands the championship trophy to his assistant, two-time champion Dennis Sicard. Finally… the biggest roar of the celebration came when Sicard hands off the Cup to Ruby – and the MVP originally pegged to be a backup to Garrett Bartus lifts up his prize as a champion.

Game Two’s Three Stars

★ – Jordan Ruby – Goalie – Macon Mayhem
★★ – Jake Trask – Forward – Macon Mayhem
★★★ – Kristaps Nimanis – Defense – Macon Mayhem

Scoring Summary

First Period

16:12 – Macon – Dennis Sicard (unassisted)

Second Period

1:52 – Peoria – Cody Dion (Dan Bremner, Justin Hoomaian)
16:11 – Macon – Jake Trask (John Siemer, Collin MacDonald)

Third Period

No Scoring

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