LAFAYETTE, LA – Tonight at the Pensacola Bay Center, the Pensacola Ice Flyers can make SPHL history. The Ice Flyers – leading the Peoria Rivermen, two games to none, in their President’s Cup Final series – can become the second team to win three President’s Cups in four seasons as soon as tonight. The Knoxville Ice Bears are the other team to accomplish the feat, having won championships in 2006, 2008, and 2009.
Should SPHL Commissioner Jim Combs hand the President’s Cup to Ice Flyers captain Adam Pawlick later this evening, Pensacola – currently 6-0 in postseason play – will become the first team in league history to go undefeated over seven postseason games. The previous franchise to go undefeated in the playoffs is the Columbus Cottonmouths, accomplishing this twice in 2012 (6-0) and 2005 (5-0).
Should Pawlick become the first player to list the President’s Cup tonight, perhaps the first player he hands it off to should be goaltender Matt Zenzola. The Pensacola netminder is also on the verge of rewriting the SPHL record books. Zenzola (6 GP, 6-0, 1.85 GAA, .915 SV%) is one win away from becoming the first seven-win postseason goalie since Dan McWhinney won seven for Huntsville in 2010 and Fayetteville’s Chad Collins in 2007. If Zenzola gets the victory tonight, he will become the first SPHL goalie to go 7-0 in the playoffs, topping Columbus’ Ian Vigier (6-0) in 2012.
Standing in the way of Zenzola and the Ice Flyers are Kyle Rank and the Peoria Rivermen, themselves familiar with making their mark on the SPHL’s history books. Rank has already set records this postseason with his records of three shutouts this postseason, five career playoff shutouts, and going 159:28 without being scored upon. Tragically, the Rivermen are one game away from their record-breaking 39-12-5 regular season record turning into postseason heartbreak.
Pensacola have themselves on the brink of history not on the play of their star forward line of Corey Banfield, Adam Pawlick, and Joe Caveney. The high-scoring trio have two goals and an assist against Peoria, and 13 points (5G/6A) this postseason. Instead, second line rookies Stephen Buco & Joe Holka, along with veteran Paul Rodrigues, have provided Pensacola’s scoring punch. The second line has two goals – both game-winners Buco, Holka) and four assists against the Rivermen, as well as 20 points (9G/11A) over the postseason.
Peoria, however, have not generated effective offensive production during the series against Pensacola. Rivermen center Adam Stuart is the only Peoria skater with more than one point (1G/1A) in the Cup Final, and offensive zone partner-in-crime Chris Wilson has been held to a single assist. Furthermore, defensemen Brandon Greenside and Dave Pszenyczny – combining for 64 points (17G/47A) in the regular season – have but a single goal by Pszenyczny against Pensacola.
If the Rivermen are to extend the series past tonight, they must get Greenside (0G/0A, -3 +/-) involved in the offensive zone and production from bottom-six forwards like Ben Power, Alec Hagaman, and Mike Gurtler. Peoria needs to get offense from throughout their lineup if they are to have a chance of bringing the series back to Peoria for a deciding Game 5. The Flyers, already winners of five straight against the Rivermen, have been successful at beating Peoria’s defense by getting pucks to open guys in the slot and in front of Rank’s crease.
Prediction: Originally, I had the Rivermen winning the series in five games, projecting the teams split the home and away portions of the series. However, Pensacola’s big-game experience should carry them at the Hangar. I stand corrected.
Ice Flyers 4, Rivermen 2. Pensacola wins the series, 3-0.