The eight-team SPHL President’s Cup field was finalized last weekend when the Louisiana IceGators defeated the Columbus Cottonmouths, 5-3, on Saturday night. Back-to-back losses to the IceGators and the Macon Mayhem mathematically eliminated the Snakes from postseason play for the first time in 12 SPHL seasons.

Today, we look at the prospects of the eight playoff-bound teams and as a follow-up to our mid-season article – make our final predictions for the league’s end-of-season awards.

1. Peoria Rivermen (37-12-4, 78 points)

The Rivs formally locked in their playoff spot at the end of February, but their postseason reservation was sealed after their record-breaking 14-game winning streak over December & January. Peoria was so far ahead in the SPHL standings, they had home ice advantage secured before any other team had punched their playoff card. Home ice will be slightly different for Rivermen fans, since arena scheduling conflicts have forced Peoria to play at their practice rink for the first two rounds of the President’s Cup Playoffs.
Projected First Round Opponent: Macon Mayhem.

2. Pensacola Ice Flyers (30-20-4, 64 points)

Pensacola’s season hit a peak after their three-game sweep of the Rivermen a couple of weeks ago. The second win against Peoria on March 19th secured their playoff spot, and the Flyers are a win away from home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Pensacola have a pair of games against the Mississippi RiverKings to close out the regular season in a series which will likely decide the #2 and #3 seeds.
Projected First Round Opponent: Louisiana IceGators.

3. Mississippi RiverKings (27-17-9, 63 points)

One point behind Pensacola with a game in hand, the RiverKings are locked in a statistical dead heat with the Ice Flyers for the second seed in the playoffs. Mississippi have a chance to overtake Pensacola with a win at Louisiana on Thursday night. Should the RiverKings fall on Thursday, they would need to sweep the Ice Flyers on Friday and Saturday to finish second.
Projected First Round Opponent: Huntsville Havoc.

4. Fayetteville FireAntz (29-21-4, 62 points)

The FireAntz have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the past few weeks, with 15 points over their last ten games. The Antz still have an outside shot at finishing as high as second in the standings. However, they seem locked in a battle with the Knoxville Ice Bears for the final home ice series in the first round
Projected First Round Opponent: Knoxville Ice Bears

5. Knoxville Ice Bears (28-20-6, 62 points)

Should the Ice Bears finish with the same number of points, the FireAntz – by virtue of regular season wins – will possess the tiebreaking edge. The Bears will make the long trip to Louisiana to complete the regular season. A sweep of the Gators over the weekend should result in home ice advantage to open the playoffs – and Knoxville are very dangerous at home in April.
Projected First Round Opponent: Fayetteville FireAntz

6. Huntsville Havoc (25-25-4, 54 points)

The rookie-dominated Havoc have executed a great turnaround from their disastrous 2014-15 season. Huntsville are a win away from essentially sealing the sixth playoff seed – although they would require an IceGators loss to secure it officially. Huntsville get the visiting FireAntz – a potential first round opponent – this weekend to close out the regular season.
Projected First Round Opponent: Mississippi RiverKings

7. Louisiana IceGators (24-25-4, 52 points)

Currently in eighth place in the standings and the last team to secure a playoff berth, the IceGators need only one win in their final three games to overtake the seventh place Macon Mayhem. The Gators can climb as high as sixth in the standings should they win their final three games. Louisiana host the RiverKings on Thursday night before the Ice Bears arrive to conclude the regular season.
Projected First Round Opponent: Pensacola Ice Flyers

8. Macon Mayhem (24-27-5, 53 points)

The Mayhem have already completed their season on April 1st, where they defeated the Cottonmouths to make the postseason in their inaugural campaign. Macon get a week to rest up before making the likely trip to Peoria to open the playoffs.
Projected First Round Opponent: Peoria Rivermen

End of Season Award Predictions

A couple of months ago, we made some mid-season predictions for the league’s end of season awards. There’s a couple of changes from our February picks, but not many. Here’s our picks for the league’s official awards.

Coffey Cup (SPHL Best Record)Peoria Rivermen.  No change from our earlier prediction, and the Rivermen locked up the league’s best regular season record on March 25th.
Coach of the YearJeff Bes, Fayetteville FireAntz. I originally had Knoxville’s Mike Craigen as my selection, and while Craigen is still a worthy selection – Besser gets my vote. The work Bes did with his FireAntz despite the call-ups and injuries to key players, his team is firing on all cylinders again – just in time for the playoffs.
Goalie of the Year – Sean Bonar, Fayetteville FireAntz. Unfortunately, Bonar doesn’t have the minutes in net to really garner the GoY award, but his SPHL work (9-3-0, 1.89 GAA, .936 SV%) earned him a full time ECHL gig in Wichita.
While Bonar still deserves mention, Macon goalie Garrett Bartus gets my pick. Bartus has been a workhorse (a league leading 45 appearances and 2709 minutes) this season, and the Mayhem have rode him into the playoffs. Bartus leads the league in wins (22), save percentage (.929), saves (1421), and shutouts (3).
Rookie of the Year – John Lidgett, Huntsville Havoc – I picked Lidgett back in February, and I’m sticking with the kid. Lidgett leads all rookies in scoring (15-27-42), assists (27) and shorthanded goals (3).
Defenseman of the Year – Brandon Greenside, Peoria Rivermen. Although veteran teammate Dave Pszenyczny has stolen Greenside’s thunder a bit, I’m still going to stick with Greenside. Greeny sill leads SPHL blueliners in scoring (6-30-36), assists (30), and plus/minus (+28).
Kevin Swider Award (top scorer) – Corey Banfield, Pensacola Ice Flyers. In February, Banfield was forecast to finish at 65 points. With two games remaining, Banfield is already at my earlier prediction. Banfield (30-35-65) leads linemate Adam Pawlick (26-36-62) by three points in the SPHL scoring race.
League MVP – Adam Pawlick, Pensacola Ice Flyers. Peoria’s Adam Stuart was my earlier pick, but his production fell off after the injury to linemate Chris Wilson. Pawlick’s epic seven point weekend (2G/5A/1 GWG, 2 GWA) in sweeping the Rivermen changed my mind. Pawlick has been deadly down the stretch, currently riding a eight game point scoring streak (4G/12A) and has 21 points over his last 11 games.

The Sin Bin’s Unofficial End-of-Year Awards…

Scrapper of the Year – David Segal, Pensacola Ice Flyers. Normaly, this award goes to the player with the most fighting majors. Huntsville’s Jeremy Beirnes would get this, but with the colorful Segal announcing his retirement – it’s only fitting Segal be honored this season.
Comeback Player of the Year – Chris Wilson, Peoria Rivermen. After missing all of last season with a training camp injury with ECHL Wichita, Pensacola’s Joe Caveney is another great feel-good story this season, and deserves mentioning. Still, Wilson’s turnaround since arriving in Peoria is equally impressive. I chose Wilson earlier in the season, and although a late season injury hampered his season – Wilson is still our pick.
Best Social Media – Huntsville Havoc (@HavocHockey, @HavocGameday, @ChaosandRukus) Huntsville’s social media on all platforms are active and engaging with fans of all stripes and ages. Also deserving of mention are the Mississippi RiverKings (@RiverKings) with their fun Twitter account.

This Week’s Games

Thursday, April 7

  • Mississippi at Louisiana – 7:05 CT
  • Columbus at Peoria – 7:05 CT

Friday, April 8

  • Knoxville at Louisiana – 7:05 CT
  • Pensacola at Mississippi – 7:05 CT
  • Columbus at Peoria – 7:05 CT
  • Fayetteville at Huntsville – 7:05 CT

Saturday, April 9

  • Knoxville at Louisiana – 7:05 CT
  • Pensacola at Mississippi – 7:05 CT
  • Columbus at Peoria – 7:05 CT
  • Fayetteville at Huntsville – 7:05 CT

End Regular Season

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