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PEORIA, Ill. – The morning of Game Three of the Presidents Cup Final dawned clear and bright. It was a beautiful Illinois spring day as the Peoria Rivermen and Huntsville Havoc faced off in a do-or-die game three to decide who would hold the Presidents Cup at the end of the day. For Peoria, it was their third consecutive trip to the Finals; the previous two years had failed to see them hoist the trophy. The Huntsville Havoc sought their second SPHL championship since 2010. The two teams had faced off last season the semi-finals, in which Peoria knocked out Huntsville in three games.

Huntsville took an early lead, as Scott Trask slid the puck past Tyler Parks just over three minutes into the first period off a rebound. Several rebounds careened off Parks’ pads, one finding its way right onto Trask’s stick. Dylan Hood and Shawn Bates were credited with the assists on the tally.

The visiting team dominated in shots on goal in the opening frame, at one point leading 9-3 with a little under eight minutes remaining. Peoria controlled possession for much of the period but was unable to get shots off that counted.

Three goals were scored in the middle frame, two by Huntsville and the other by Peoria. Nine seconds after Dave Pszenyczny went into the box for tripping, Trask netted another goal. Trask sniped it over Parks’ right shoulder from the far edge of the right circle after receiving the pass from Nolan Kaiser from the blue line.

Game three was a chippy affair between the teams, scrums breaking out in front of one goalie or the other after several plays. By the end of the night, there would be 11 additions to the penalty columns for both teams. Only once was the power play successful for either team, however.

Connor Gorman ended the shutout bid of Keegan Asmundson six minutes into the sandwich stanza. Joe Kalisz fired the initial shot, which rebounded from right to left directly to Gorman. A few minutes later the game could have been tied off a wild deflection, as the puck bounced off the corner boards to skitter right through the blue paint and between Asmundson’s legs. If he had been standing just a smidge differently, the puck might have deflected off his skate and into the net. The bounces, however, would not go for Peoria.

The one-goal game turned into a two-goal game with 31 seconds remaining before the second and final bathroom break of the night when Stephen Hrehoriak scored unassisted. Hrehoriak streaked down the right side with only Parks and Brandon Rumble to oppose him, and Parks dropped down into the butterfly to expose the top shelf. Hrehoriak capitalized on the open net, sending it over Parks’ shoulder.

A moment of brevity for Rivermen fans occurred while Parks was attempting to come off the ice for a delayed penalty in the third period. As he skated towards the bench, he and a teammate who was coming on for a shift change collided at the blue line. The whistle blew to end play when a Havoc player touched the puck, Parks spinning once on his side on the ice from the collision.

Kalisz then brought the Rivermen back within one goal after getting the puck from the streaking Joseph Widmar. Kalisz appeared to shoot the puck between the legs of Anthony Calabrese before it found the back of the net with two and a half minutes remaining.

Peoria head coach Jean-Guy Trudel pulled Parks with 80 seconds left in the game in a bid to send the match to over time, but it was for naught. Instead, Sy Nutkevitch scored on the empty net with 25 seconds remaining.

As someone who mostly watches ECHL hockey, covering the Quad City Mallards, I found the game to be as good skill wise as any ECHL game I’ve seen. Though it was a bit slower of a pace at times than ECHL, that didn’t make it a lesser game. Both teams fought hard for the Presidents Cup, putting it all out on the ice by game’s end. At the final horn, however, Huntsville had proven they wanted the trophy more.

Congratulations to the Huntsville Havoc on their championship!

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