KNOXVILLE, Tn. – In the postseason, it’s all about surviving and advancing.
The defending SPHL President Cup Champion Huntsville Havoc continue to do just that.
For the second game in a row during its semifinal series against the Knoxville Ice Bears, this time on the road, Huntsville prevailed 3-2 in overtime and won the series 2-0. As a result, the Havoc advance to the President’s Cup Finals where they will face Birmingham which won its semifinal series against Roanoke in three games to advance.
On Saturday, 10:46 into overtime, it was Nolan Kaiser providing the heroics as his unassisted goal from the right point clinched the series for Huntsville, which has won all but one of its postseason games this season by one goal.
Game one of the series will be on Friday in Birmingham with game two on Saturday in Huntsville. The third game, if needed, will be Monday in Birmingham.
For some teams, advancing to the finals would spark an over the top flow of emotions. In the case of the Havoc, a team with many returners from last year’s title-winning squad, there appears to be a sense of bigger things being at stake next weekend against the Bulls.
“Anytime you can win in overtime, the excitement level is going to be a little bit higher because it’s just a sudden victory,” Huntsville head coach Glenn Detulleo said. “There was a lot of energy in the locker room after the game, but we also have a big group of guys that know that the toughest part is still ahead. It was tempered celebration.”
A close margin of victory wasn’t the only common thread between both Huntsville wins in the series. Of the Havoc’s six combined goals against the Ice Bears, two were via the power play.
“Thursday, we outplayed Huntsville in the first period, they outplayed us in the second and we were up 2-1 in the third and we sat back maybe a little too much that was on me and maybe our demise and that was on me,” Knoxville head coach Jeff Carr said. “They beat us on the special teams and beat us there again tonight and I felt like that was a little bit of the difference.”
The special teams prowess, plus strong play on the back end Saturday anchored in goal by Max Milosek, moved the Havoc to a 2-0 lead. A redirect on one power-play goal was credited to Kyle Sharkey 9:44 in the first period assisted by Connor Schmidt and Sy Nutkevitch made it a 1-0 advantage, and Huntsville needed just a bit over seven minutes of the second period to lead 2-0 on a score by Christian Powers.
“This time of year, special teams are huge. They were a team that wanted to generate opportunities off the rush. Our game plan was not to get stuck on that up and down the ice. At the times we outplayed them, I felt like we were maybe a little heavier on pucks,” Detulleo said. “This time of year, you can game plan all you want and you get on the ice and things change. In the end, we’re just trying to execute the best you can but it’s the intangibles that get you across the line.”
Up 2-0, the lead to a casual observer would appear safe. Cruise control, however, was nowhere to be found with the Ice Bears, who showed why they had clawed their way to the semifinals. With Hayden Stewart keeping the Havoc at bay, Knoxville then rallied on the offensive end. Stewart stopped 29 of 32 shots while Milosek was equally impressive, saving 36 of 38.
“It was save for save,” Detulleo said. “Max has played fantastic and won a couple of games for us, but the goalie play on both sides was really good.”
David Brancik, getting an assist from Bryce Nielsen and Scott Cuthrell got the Ice Bears on the board just 30 seconds after Huntsville’s 2-0 lead, Knoxville headed to the second intermission needing just one score to draw even.
The Ice Bears equalized things just 3:09 in the third. With Spencer Metcalfe pouncing on a loose puck, his unassisted goal tied things, setting the stage for an intense 16-plus minutes where each team had its share of near misses before affairs were settled in overtime on Kaiser’s game-winner.
The loss will undoubtedly be hard to swallow in the Ice Bears locker room. But as Knoxville looks toward the future, the light of optimism shines bright.
“I’ve coached for ten years, this is the most special group of guys I have ever coached. We’ve had some trades and guys that didn’t fit into our culture. Our culture is built on character and work ethic to each guy on the room and the guy next to them and we had every one of those guys,” Carr said. “At the end of the day, I would take every guy on our team back. They set our culture, I can’t emphasize that enough.”
Three Stars of the Series
- Max Milosek: Combined to stop 68 out of 72 shots in both games of the series.
- Nolan Kaiser: Three points including Saturday’s series-clinching goal in overtime.
- Tyler Piacentini: Scored the game-tying and game-winning goal in Thursday’s game one victory for the Havoc.
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