LAFAYETTE, La. — Over the past seven days, four new teams joined the Pensacola Ice Flyers and Peoria Rivermen in next month’s SPHL 2018 Presidents Cup Playoffs. Three perennial playoff participants – the Huntsville Havoc, Macon Mayhem, and Knoxville Ice Bears – were joined by the Evansville Thunderbolts.
The Bolts mark the return of postseason hockey to Evansville since the IceMen of the old Central Hockey League back in 2012. For a while, it seemed Evansville’s April aspirations were in doubt when the Bolts were mired with a 13-game winless skid after the departure of Tomas Sholl to the ECHL. After the acclimation of goaltender Ryan de Melo and the excellent play of collegiate add-on Ian Sylves from Buffalo (NY) State, the Bolts have won six of their last eight – enough to stave off an embarrassing postseason elimination.
With two weekends remaining in the SPHL regular season, we’re ready to make an important call: The Rivermen will win their third William B. Coffey trophy as regular season champions. Peoria’s magic number to secure the top overall seed – and first pickings of the #5-#8 seeds in the Challenge Round – is only four points.
Peoria can clinch the league’s top spot for the third time in team history as early as Friday night – and do not need to win another game to do so. Should the Ice Flyers drop both Tuesday night’s game against the RiverKings and Friday night’s tilt with the Bulls in regulation, the Rivermen will have their title in hand. Most likely, the Rivermen will gain at least a split in Roanoke while the Ice Flyers will drop one of their three this week and the conversation for the regular season title will be moot.
A more interesting race is for the third seed – particular because it’s the final Challenge Round position which comes with a choice of opponent. The Havoc are currently in third place with 65 points, with the Mayhem only one point behind. The Mayhem have the advantage of a game in hand, however, and can win out and overtake the Havoc. Lurking three points behind Huntsville are the Knoxville Ice Bears – still within the projected margin of error although becoming more likely the Ice Bears will finish with the fifth seed.
With the Thunderbolts securely in sixth position, the last remaining playoff race is between the Mississippi RiverKings, Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, and Birmingham Bulls for the two remaining unclaimed playoff spots. Both the Kings and Dawgs stand at 52 points with five games left to play, meaning we have a dead heat brewing. The Bulls have had trouble winning on the road in their inaugural campaign, and their current three-game skid – all road losses – have their playoff hopes on the ropes. Birmingham visits Pensacola this weekend for their final road trip of the season, a trip the expansion team needs a sweep from to have a chance at the Presidents Cup.
Finally, there is imminent disappointment for Rail Yard Dawgs fans. Each postseason, some teams have to suffer through seeing their teams earn playoff bids only to have their playoff games relocated due to scheduling conflicts with their arenas. Conflicts happen so often we have nicknames for them: Disney on Iced and Monster Jammed being the most common. Add a new nickname to the list – Bulled Out. The PBR (that’s bull riding to y’all non-cowboys out there, not hipster beer) has the Berg for the first round of the playoffs, meaning the Dawgs may have to play in an alternate facility or play their first-round games on the road.
Al Graves, commonly known as the “Grave Digger,” spent time with both the Evansville Thunderbolts and Huntsville Havoc this season. Grave Digger is also one of Monster Jam’s signature monster trucks, beloved by millions of adoring fans. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that both cities will be Monster Jammed should the Thunderbolts and Havoc advance to the semifinal round. Look for both teams to play semifinal home games in their respective practice facilities. The Havoc should play at the Iceplex, and the Bolts head over to the Swonder Ice Arena.
The Ice Flyers’ first-round series will have to be played quickly. The Bay Center has a cheerleading competition during the Saturday and Sunday of the opening round. Look for a Tuesday game one on the road, followed by games two/three in Pensacola to complete the series no later than Thursday. Do we call this overbooking “Getting Rah-rahed”?
Visually, here is how the projections stack up. At this point of the season, any converging lines on the graph indicate a contested position. Mercifully, we removed the long-eliminated Fayetteville Marksmen from the chart.
In a Nutshell…
- Peoria Rivermen
- Pensacola Ice Flyers
- Huntsville Havoc
- Macon Mayhem
- Knoxville Ice Bears
- Evansville Thunderbolts
- Fayetteville Marksmen
Our Challenge Round Projections
- Peoria vs. Evansville
- Pensacola vs. Mississippi
- Macon vs. Knoxville
- Huntsville vs. Roanoke
Playoff Magic Numbers
- Mississippi – 5 (winning one of their last five games)
- Roanoke – 6
Challenge Round Magic Numbers
- Pensacola – 8
- Macon – 10
Coffey Cup Magic Number
- Peoria – 4
Sprint for the Swider – SPHL Scoring Title
- Berkley Scott (KNX) – 66 points
- Jake Hauswirth (FAY) – 62 points
- Jake Trask (MAC) – 61 points
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