LAFAYETTE, La. — We’re in the final weeks of the SPHL regular season and like our ECHL friends we are going to break down the evolving Presidents Cup playoff races. Unlike our ECHL buddies, who sometimes play more games in a day than the SPHL does in a weekend, we will publish updates weekly or if something remarkable happens.
Speaking of remarkable, the best fans in all of hockey came through again in Pensacola over the weekend. When Peoria Rivermen forward Will Smith went down with a scary skate blade injury Friday night at the Bay Center, taking the rookie out of action for the remainder of the regular season, Ice Flyers fans poured out their hearts for the injured winger. This is a great example of how fans are throughout the league – all are treated like family here.
Speaking of the Pensacola Ice Flyers, they joined the Peoria Rivermen as the only confirmed entrants in next month’s dance. The Flyers punched their ticket on Friday night with a 5-2 win over Peoria.
Moving on to the Rivermen, now missing a huge monkey off of their collective backs after winning in the Bay Center for the first time in over three years. The Rivermen went 1,142 days since their last victory in the Hangar, dropping eight straight games including the deciding game of the 2016 Presidents Cup Final.
The Rivermen and Ice Flyers are the two teams with a reasonable chance of winning the William B. Coffey Trophy, awarded to the league’s regular-season champion. As of today, the Ice Flyers trail the Rivermen by six points but have two games in hand.
The race for the third seed, important as it is the remaining playoff position which has a choice of opponent in the SPHL’s new Challenge Round playoff format. The Huntsville Havoc, Macon Mayhem, and Knoxville Ice Bears are within two points of each other with 62, 61, and 60 points respectively. Of the trio, the Mayhem have the advantage of one extra game remaining over the Havoc. According to our projections, all three teams are in a statistical dead heat for the third seed.
Finally, the Birmingham Bulls – 15-3-1 since January 20th – have put themselves in playoff contention. With their decisive 6-1 win over Roanoke on Saturday night, a much-anticipated game between two teams making late postseason bids, the Bulls leap-frogged both the Rail Yard Dawgs and Mississippi RiverKings into sole possession of seventh place in the league standings.
Next weekend, the RiverKings look to have the strength-of-schedule advantage as they head to Fayetteville to face the now-eliminated Marksmen. The Bulls have a chance to pull away from the pack a bit with three road games in the upcoming week, but against tougher opponents in Pensacola, Knoxville, and Huntsville. Finally, the Dawgs hit share a pair of common opponents with the Bulls, traveling to Huntsville on Friday before hosting Knoxville on Saturday. With the Bulls owning the league’s second-worst road record at 7-12-4, the advantage this week falls to the RiverKings. However, the Bulls are the league’s hottest team with eight wins in their last ten games.
We have posted season-ending projections over the past several weeks. Lately, the projections have flattened out as we begin to dial in the numbers. This graph shows just how tight the races for the 3-5 and 7-8 seeds are.
In a nutshell…
- Peoria Rivermen
- Pensacola Ice Flyers
- Fayetteville Marksmen
Our Challenge Round Projections:
- Peoria vs. Evansville
- Pensacola vs. Mississippi
- Macon vs. Birmingham
- Huntsville vs. Knoxville
Playoff Magic Numbers:
- Huntsville – 1
- Macon – 2
- Knoxville – 3
- Evansville – 9
- Birmingham – 14
- Mississippi – 14
Challenge Round Magic Numbers:
- Peoria – 4
- Pensacola – 11
- Macon – 13
Coffey Cup Magic Number:
- Peoria – 13
Sprint for the Swider – SPHL Scoring Title
- Berkley Scott (KNX) – 61 points
- Jake Hauswirth (FAY) – 59 points
- Jake Trask (MAC) – 59 points