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The Southern Professional Hockey League begins their 12th season of play this weekend.

This season, the SPHL welcomes back the city of Macon, Georgia, where the former Augusta Riverhawks owners founded the Macon Mayhem. The Mayhem is the first pro hockey team in the central Georgia city in ten years. The 2004-05 Macon Trax was a charter member of the league. Earlier this week, the league announced their newest addition. Roanoke, Virginia will be joining as the SPHL’s tenth franchise and will begin play in the 2016-17 season.

The Columbus Cottonmouths will be celebrating their 20th season with a special jersey crest. Other teams featuring new crests include the Mississippi RiverKings, Huntsville Havoc, and Peoria Rivermen.

About the SPHL

Founded: 2004 with eight teams.

Current Teams: Nine in eight states.

Defending Champion: Knoxville Ice Bears, 4th title.

Roster Size: 18 players.

COLUMBUS COTTONMOUTHS

Shannon Szabados takes control of the Snakes’ net after the retirement of Andrew Loewen. Columbus lost most of their key offensive weapons, and has a defense in rebuilding mode. Columbus is a young team that will be an entertaining to watch.

2014-15 Regular Season Record: 33-19-4 (70 pts): Finished second.

2015 President’s Cup Playoffs Result: Lost in 1st round to the Knoxville Ice Bears in three games

Key Addition: The Cottonmouths brought in rookie goalie Joel Danyluk to play in relief of Shannon Szabados.

Key Loss: Goaltender Andrew Loewen retired over the summer. Loewen has been the mainstay in the pipes for the past five seasons.

X-Factor: The Snakes’ have ten players without any SPHL experience, nine of them are rookies. They will have to quickly adjust to the pro game or Columbus will find themselves in some shootouts.

Players to Watch:

F Shawn Bates: The speedy second-year player scored 23 goals and 20 assists. Bates is a threat to score every time he takes the ice.

G Joel Danyluk: A rookie goaltender from Alberta-Augustana, where he had an excellent collegiate career. Danyluk will be expected to contribute in net immediately.

D Kyle Johnson: The Snakes’ captain is one of the steadiest defensemen in the league, and a rock in the locker room.

 

FAYETTEVILLE FIREANTZ

The coaching carousel in Fayetteville continues. Can new bench boss Jeff Bes bring the bugs back to the postseason?

2014-15 Regular Season Record: 21-27-8 (50 pts): Finished seventh.

2015 President’s Cup Playoffs Result: Did not qualify.

Key Addition: C Berkley Scott was acquired from Knoxville and will be expected to carry the offense for the FireAntz

Key Loss: D Jan Safar retired during the summer to take up coaching. The Antz leading defenseman is going to be difficult to replace.

X-Factor: G Parker VanBuskirk. G Sean Bonar was sensational in his four appearances with the FireAntz before completing the season in the ECHL. If Bones winds up in the higher league again, can VanBuskirk pick up the slack?

Players to Watch:

C Berkley Scott: The big center finds himself with new teammates, can he put up his point-per-game pace here?

RW Josh McQuade: The former league scoring champ and MVP is capable of putting up big numbers.

LW Brad Drobot: The departure of Tyler Sheldrake and Ryan Hand will put him in more scraps this season.

 

HUNTSVILLE HAVOC

The Havoc rebuilt their roster after a historically disastrous season. If they get off to another slow start, how long will coach Glenn Detullo remain?

2014-15 Regular Season Record: 11-38-7 (29 pts): Finished eighth.

2015 President’s Cup Playoffs Result: Did not qualify.

Key Addition: F Brett Lutes was brought in to provide some veteran leadership to a very young squad.

Key Loss: F Justin Cseter played for two seasons in Huntsville. This year, he left the SPHL to play in Europe.

X-Factor: The Coach. If the Havoc get off to another slow start, how long will Glenn Detullo remain behind the bench? Former Havoc goalie Jesse Kallechy was recently brought on as an assistant. Will a second man behind the bench help?

Players to Watch:

D Stuart Stefan: One of the best offensive-minded defensemen in the league. Scored 11 goals and 20 assists last season.

G Kevin Genoe: Despite going 8-20-5 last season, Genoe had a 2.73 GAA and a .913 SP%. A quality netminder who lacked offensive support in 2014-15.

LW Dave Williams: Brought in at the end of last season, Williams was a bright spot in an otherwise dark season.

 

KNOXVILLE ICE BEARS

The President’s Cup champions are in a rebuilding mode after losing most of their core players.

2014-15 Regular Season Record: 31-22-3 (65 pts) — Finished fifth.

2015 President’s Cup Playoffs Result: Defeated the Mississippi River Kings 2-0 in the President’s Cup Final.

Key Addition: Trever Hertz, acquired in the trade with Fayetteville that sent Berkley Scott to the FireAntz

Key Losses: LW Frankie Drolet, C Ben Power,  C Berkley Scott, F Ryan Salvis, F Eric Satim, D Robbie Donahoe, D Ryan Hill – The core group of the President’s Cup champions all departed in the off-season.

X-Factor: The impending goaltending controversy. This was supposed to be Braely Torris’ net this season, but the late re-signing of long-time netminder Bryan Hince could bring back a platoon in the pipes.

Players to Watch:

RW Dennis Sicard: One of the most entertaining players in the league. He can scrap with the best enforcers, skate with a high motor, and can score at the most crucial times.

D Bo Driscoll: Begins his first full season in Knoxville. Driscoll was one of the best defenders in the postseason.

RW Bret Peppler: One of the top snipers in the league, Peps led the SPHL in shooting percentage for the IceGators.

 

LOUISIANA ICEGATORS

Can the Gators continue to build on their successful playoff run and become a contender again?

2014-15 Regular Season Record: 27-21-8 (62 pts): Finished sixth.

2015 President’s Cup Playoffs Result: Defeated by the Knoxville Ice Bears, 2-0 in the President’s Cup semifinals

Key Additions: G Adam Courchaine was acquired from the Mississippi RiverKings in exchange for LW Benji Rubin, and C Alex Hudson came to Louisiana in a trade that sent F Adam Stuart to Peoria.

Key Loss: C Shawn McNeil retired after a 16-year professional career. The five-year captain played nine seasons with both the ECHL and SPHL incarnations of the IceGators.

X-Factor: Will the IceGators’ rebuilt defensive unit be an improvement over last season’s?

Players to Watch:

F Jeremy Boyer: Boyer has spent the last three seasons at the second-line center. This season, he moves out on the wing with Jake Hauswirth at center.

F Vladyslav Gavrik: A 6’4” forward with great hands and speed, Gavrik has dazzled in training camp with his high-energy play.

D Jordan Ciccarello: The new leader of the IceGators’ new-look defense, Ciccarello is an ECHL-caliber defenseman with a 200-foot game.

 

MACON MAYHEM

After a decade, ice hockey returns to Macon, Georgia in the form of the former Augusta Riverhawks.

2014-15 Regular Season Record: Did not play

2015 President’s Cup Playoffs Result: Did not play

Key Additions: D Mark Corbett was the lone player from Macon’s expansion draft who signed with the team

Key Losses: F Ryan Salvis, F Matt Whitehead, D Steve Bergin, D Jason Cohen, and G John McLean are the five Mayhem draftees who didn’t sign with the team.

X-Factor: The Mayhem went 2-0 in the preseason – outscoring opponents by a score of 10-2. How will the Mayhem play when the games begin to count and they face full-strength linups?

Players to Watch:

F Lucas Labelle: The six-year pro returns to the SPHL after a season with the FHL Watertown Wolves

D Curtis Megginson: Megginson was the first player signed by the Mayhem, and will be looked to be an anchor on defense and a leader in the locker room.

F John Schiavo: The rookie forward looked good in both preseason games, scoring in both contests.

 

MISSISSIPPI RIVERKINGS

The Kings rode a pair of hot goaltenders and a stingy defense to the President’s Cup final. Can they return after some big offseason losses?

2014-15 Regular Season Record: 33-21-2 (68 points): finished fourth

2015 President’s Cup Playoffs Result: Lost to the Knoxville Ice Bears, 2-0, in the President’s Cup Final

Key Additions: Benjamin Rubin arrives in Southaven after being traded by the Louisiana IceGators. Goalie Matt Grogan is expected to play in relief of starter Peter Di Salvo.

Key Losses: D Andrew Randazzo was a two-time SPHL first-teamer and the reigning defenseman of the year. Matt Whitehead made SPHL all-star teams for the past two seasons, and led the RiverKings in scoring for the last three years.

X-Factor: The RiverKings are returning only one blueliner from one of the top defensive units in the league. Coach Derek Landmesser is a defensive guru, and how long he gets his new d-men up to speed will have a direct result in the Kings’ fortunes.

Players to Watch:

C Leo Thomas – The 12-year professional begins his third season as the RiverKings’ captain, is the oldest player in the SPHL, and still plays at a high level.

G Peter Di Salvo – The unquestioned starter after the trade which sent Adam Courchaine to the IceGators, Di Salvo has been one of the top netminders over the past two seasons.

C Matt Harrington – Harrington is beginning his fourth season with the RiverKings, and plays hard in all three zones.

 

PENSACOLA ICE FLYERS

The Ice Flyers failed to pull off the three-peat last season with an early postseason exit. Can the Flyers rebuild their team after several key losses with a blast from the past?

2014-15 Regular Season Record: 32-18-6 (70 points): finished third

2015 President’s Cup Playoffs Result: Lost to the Mississippi RiverKings, 2-1, in the first round.

Key Additions: Former captains Cole Ruwe (Peoria) and David Segal (Knoxville) are expected to bolster an experienced defensive unit. Joe Caveney returns to hockey after missing last season with an injury.

Key Loss: F Paul Rodrigues earned a job with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL. Max Strang surprised many Pensacola fans with a sudden retirement days before training camp was to begin.

X-Factor: Max Strang was expected to be a 40-game starter this season. His retirement leaves a huge role to be filled by rookie Brad Barone and third-year pro Matt Zenzola.

Players to Watch:

C Adam Pawlick – Last season’s SPHL scoring leader, Pawlick is a strong playmaker with a complete game.

LW Nick McParland – An impact player on the ice from the moment he arrived from the Rapid City Rush of the ECHL.

LW Corey Banfield – Pawlick’s linemate is a great playmaker, and knows how to thread the needle with his passing.

 

PEORIA RIVERMEN

The Rivermen coasted to a regular season championship, only to see their President’s Cup hopes dashed with a second consecutive first-round playoff loss. The Rivs are reloaded, ready, and have a chip on their shoulder.

2014-15 Regular Season Record: 36-17-3 (75 points): finished first

2015 President’s Cup Playoffs Result: Defeated by the Louisiana IceGators, 2-1, in the first round.

Key Additions: F Adam Stuart was acquired from the IceGators in the trade for Alex Hudson, Francois Brassard is a rookie goaltender who played well for Gatineau in the QMJHL.

Key Losses: D Cole Ruwe “retired” from hockey after last season, but the former captain wound up signing with the Pensacola Ice Flyers. C Josh Harris suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp. C Alex Hudson was traded to the IceGators.

X-Factor: The Rivermen return most of their skill players, but the losses of Ruwe, Hudson, and Harris leave a large leadership void in the locker room.

Players to Watch:

G Kyle Rank – Rank is the two-time defending SPHL goaltender of the year, and went 27-12-2 with a 2.40 GAA and .916 SV%.

C Garrett Vermeersch – The former rookie of the year struggled a bit in his second season, scoring 42 points in 55 games.

C Adam Stuart – With Harris and Hudson out of the Rivermen lineup, the big forward moves to center from the right wing.

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