One Presidents Cup Semifinal matchup is now set after last night’s games. In the postseason’s first winner-take-all game, the Macon Mayhem and Columbus Cottonmouths played a much different game then the goaltending duels of the previous two games in the series. Meanwhile, in Pensacola, the Fayetteville FireAntz continued to struggle offensively and the Pensacola Ice Flyers once again relied on late-game heroics to ascend up the postseason ladder.
The rubber match of the Cottonmouths/Mayhem series had as many scores in the first period as the previous two games combined. Both games one and two were tightly checked, with officiating crews content to allow both teams to settle the decisions on the ice. Game three, however, featured an officiating crew which laid down the law early and often. Referees Walker Holton and Stephen Sailor called as many penalties in the first period as the respective frames in the previous games combined, as both teams opened the game with the same intensity as the other games in the series. The tight calling by Holton and Sailor, who called the game relatively consistently, opened up the offense on both ends of the rink. With the increased penalties, Macon was the team who was able to take advantage of the opportunities, scoring on their second power play of the first period on Stephen Pierog‘s goal. A few minutes later, Chad Brears ended Jordan Ruby‘s shutout sequence at 128:40 – good for fifth-longest in SPHL playoff history.
The floodgates opened in the second frame for the Macon. Jake Trask got the first of his two goals on the night. Stathis Soumelidis and Daniel Gentzler forced a Columbus defensive zone turnover, then fed a wide open Trask on the far side. Less than five minutes later, Trask added his second of the night with a right side rush followed with a top-shelf snipe. Tempers boiled over soon after when a sliding Kristaps Nimanis went low into Snakes netminder Mavric Parks, triggering more people than a Fox News broadcast at Cal-Berkley. Later, Dennis Sicard gets into the mix and scores Macon’s second power play goal, and the rout was on. Macon captain Matt Summers, capped off the four-goal second period with a rushing slap shot from the right circle and the Mayhem went into the second intermission with a resounding 5-1 lead.
The Snakes, down four goals, attempted a furious third period comeback. Alex Kromm scored his second goal of the series when Craig Simchuk finds him on the doorstep. With 7:01 remaining in regulation, Andy Bathgate slips behind a Macon defense overloaded to the left side, and Petr Senkerik sets him up with a cross-ice pass. The Columbus comeback stalled, and Macon iced the game with Matt Johnson‘s goal, paired with John Siemer on a two-on-none breakaway with 2:52 left in the game. The Cottonmouths put up a heck of a fight in pushing the regular season champs to the limit, but the execution of the Mayhem in the offensive zone proved to be the difference.
Meanwhile, at the Hangar, goaltender Matt Zenzola and his Pensacola Ice Flyers continued their winning ways in the postseason. Zenzola extended his record playoff winning streak to nine with help from some late-game heroics from veteran defenseman & prodigal son Jeremy Gates and collegiate newcomer Stephen Hrehoriak (From…. MERCYHURST!).
With the Ice Flyers nursing a 1-0 lead when Andrew Schmit and Ken Neil cashed in a third period two-on-one rush, the FireAntz appeared to have scored the overtime-forcing goal with some good hard work in the corner by collegian Lawrence Cornellier (UW-Stevens Point). After winning the puck battle down low in the far corner, Cornellier circles around to the near side circle while Jake Hauswirth maintains possession with a solid box-out. Hauswirth’s shot rebounds off Zenzola… right on Cornellier’s stick. Tie game.
The aforementioned tie game lasted 54 seconds. Pensacola wins the following draw and has the offensive zone possession of the season so far. Gates, quarterbacking the action from the point, makes some great plays to keep the puck in the zone before he finds Neil. Neil skates behind the Fayetteville net and finds Hrehoriak’s stick, who in turn ends the FireAntz season. Fayetteville netminder Sean Bonar, a shoo-in for the SPHL’s upcoming Goalie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards, is now 0-3 career in the playoffs.
Nobody’s blaming Bonar for the loss… His teammates have scored a grand total of TWO GOALS over his three career postseason starts. Bonar is always going to give his team a chance to win on any given night, but he can’t sink 200-footers. The lack of scoring from Fayetteville over the last two weeks of the regular season and the series with Pensacola is going to haunt coach Jeff Bes all summer.
With the top-seeded Mayhem and lowest surviving seed Ice Flyers advancing, we already have the schedule for their semifinal series. The Pensacola Bay Center has a scheduling conflict next weekend, forcing the Flyers to host Game One on Wednesday night. No longer Disney on Iced, Macon will host Games Two and, if necessary, Game three on Friday and Saturday.
Last Night’s Three Stars
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