The Challenge Round series between the Huntsville Havoc and Pensacola Ice Flyers can be described as a study in opposites. The Havoc possess the SPHL’s most potent offense while the Ice Flyers are a stout defensive squad. Who will prevail in a matchup featuring two of the hottest teams in the league over the second half of the season? Which cliche will reign supreme – “Defense wins championships” or “The best defense is a good offense”?
The Havoc as a team lit the lamp 209 times during the 2018-19 campaign and feature the league’s top goal scorer in Ryan Salkeld, whose 28 tallies led all SPHL snipers. Veteran teammate Sy Nutkevitch provided 46 helpers, good for second in the league this season. Rookie forward Rob Darrar led the SPHL with 11 power play goals in a unit which was second in the league with a 21.5 percent success rate.
Meanwhile, the Ice Flyers – despite finishing seventh in the standings – allowed the third-fewest goals in the league. Goaltender Brian Billett put up career numbers after securing the starting role in January. Billett finished the season with a third-best GAA of 2.11, a second-best save percentage of .926, and the third-most shutouts with three. Billett is backed up with defensive standouts such as Chris Lijdsman, Ryan Devine, Nathan Bruyere, and Jason Price.
Game 1 – Thursday, April 11 – Pensacola at HUNTSVILLE – 7:00 CT
Game 2 – Saturday, April 13 – Huntsville at PENSACOLA – 7:05 CT
* Game 3 – Sunday, April 14 – Pensacola at HUNTSVILLE – 7:00 CT
* If Necessary
Season Series Recap
The nine-game season series was dominated by the Havoc, winning the first three games early in the season, then winning three more after dropping a 4-3 overtime loss at the Hangar on November 10th. The Ice Flyers would win one more overtime game in Huntsville on March second before the Havoc would take the regular season series finale on March 26th by a 5-2 margin.
Darrar would lead all players in the series with seven goals and ten points and his Havoc teammate Kyle Sharkey would provide a series-high eight helpers. Bruyere led all Ice Flyers with seven points, with three teammates scoring three goals each.
In net for the Havoc, Mike DeLaVergne received the bulk of work against Pensacola, appearing in seven games and racking up a 6-0-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and a .931 save percentage. His Pensacola counterpart, Billett, only appeared in three games, going 0-1-1 with a 2.57 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
The majority of contests in the season series were played during the first half of the season, with only two games played during the month of March.
How Huntsville Wins
- Put the Foot on the Pedal: The Havoc are a team which plays at a fast pace. They’re going to have to use that speed to blow past a disciplined Pensacola defense and generate scoring chances and force penalties – giving opportunities to a potent power play unit.
- Give Milosek a Cushion: Five of Milosek’s seven losses have come when the Havoc have scored two or fewer goals.
- Preparation: Coach Glenn Detulleo is perhaps the most underrated tactician in the league, despite winning a championship last season. As this series progresses, Detulleo should be able to figure out a way to solve Billett and the Ice Flyers defense.
How Pensacola Wins
- Lean on Billett – the Ice Flyers netminder has put up MVP numbers over the second half of the season, and this series will be a big test.
- Garrett Milan’s Playmaking – Milan has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Ice Flyers in the offensive zone, and he’s going to have to be the scoring catalyst in this series.
- Crunch the Boards: The Ice Flyers will need to impose their physical will on Huntsville and slow down the game through the neutral zone.
In a series predicted by many of us to be a coin flip, this series is going to come down to the blue-collar players on both squads. In this case, I prefer the grittier Ice Flyers. Pensacola in three games.