MACON, Ga. – Both Macon and Knoxville have spent a good part of the SPHL season camped out in the upper half of the league’s standings, not to mention being neck and neck for fourth place going into the final week of the season.
That jockeying, however, is out the window now for both teams as the President’s Cup playoffs begin this weekend as the Ice Bears have the advantage of home ice.
Could having two Knoxville mainstays help Macon? How much could the resiliency of the Ice Bears carry over into the postseason? We’ll dive into that and more with a look at the series.
Final Regular Season Records
Knoxville Ice Bears: 29-22-5, 4th in SPHL
Macon Mayhem: 27-24-5, 6th in SPHL
By the Numbers:
SERIES SCHEDULE: Home team in BOLD CAPS and all times local
Game 1 – Friday, April 12 – Macon at KNOXVILLE 7 pm ET
Game 2 – Saturday, April 13 – Knoxville at MACON 7:35 pm ET
*Game 3 – Sunday, April 14 – Macon at KNOXVILLE 7 pm ET
*=> If necessary
Season Series Recap
If regular-season results count for anything in the postseason, the Macon Mayhem have to feel pretty good about things. The Mayhem went 5-1-1 this year against the Ice Bears, their best record against any team during the regular season except for Evansville. That run included a two-game sweep the next to last weekend of the season, a 4-2 win in Macon and 6-2 victory a night later in Knoxville.
The Ice Bears two wins against the Mayhem this year came earlier in the season – Dec. 26 in a 3-2 overtime win and 4-1 on Nov. 17. And while some of the names filling lineups have changed since then, the Ice Bears do have one measure to hang their hat on from that Nov. 17 win. Macon’s goalie that night is the same one that returned to the team over the weekend just in time for the postseason – Jordan Ruby, after spending a good part of the season with Wheeling in the ECHL.
Two Knoxville veterans at that time, however, will now be suiting up for Macon – Marcus Ortiz and Danny Cesarz. The duo, separately acquired by the Mayhem late in the season, has so far helped Macon to a pair of wins against their former mates. If that same happens this weekend, Macon will advance past the first round of the postseason for the third year in a row.
Knoxville Ice Bears Keys to Success:
Knoxville will need to do what it’s done all season long – fight through the find a way to win, something that Jeff Carr’s group has done from opening night and beyond.
Despite not having a player ranked among the league’s top 15 scorers, here Knoxville is within the upper half of the league. Scott Cuthrell’s 43 points (12 goals, 31 assists) leads the way, as does the roving, opportunistic play of Lucas Bombardier (18 goals, 21 assists). Strong two-way play on both ends of the ice will also key, an effort that’s been led by defenseman Doug Rose and his 25 assists. Sound special teams play is also an area that Knoxville will need to capitalize on. While the Ice Bears were whistled for 243 minor penalties this season, second-lowest in the SPHL, Macon’s 289 were second-highest.
Knoxville’s 92.1 penalty kill percentage led the league this year. Macon’s power play, conversely, at 15.7 percent, ranked eighth. If there’s an area where Knoxville can win this series, it may very well on special teams.
Macon Mayhem Keys to Success:
First of all, Macon has to persevere to start the series. Head coach Leo Thomas won’t be available to coach on Friday for game one as he serves a one-game suspension levied by the SPHL as a result of conduct toward officials last Saturday in Peoria. The goal for Macon becomes overcoming that and snagging a 1-0 series lead on the road with assistant coach Ryan Michel at the helm.
Overall, Macon’s chances to win center in goal. Macon’s postseason MVP from the President’s Cup title season two years ago, Jordan Ruby, returned to Macon over the weekend just in time for the playoffs. If Ruby adapts well to the defenders in front of him, the Mayhem have an excellent chance not only to win this series, but to make a run deep into the postseason.
Macon will also have to steer clear of what’s been an Achilles heel this season at a time – not being able to put a full 60 minutes of hockey. A prime example of that was last Friday in Peoria. For two of three periods, the Mayhem played well enough to do what few have done this year- beat the Rivermen at home. Those hopes, however, unraveled in a four-goal second-period on the way to a 5-2 loss.
Another factor working in Macon’s favor is up front. Three forwards who know full well what it takes to bury goals in big postseason moments for the Mayhem give Macon a formidable group of scorers – Jake Trask, John Siemer, and Stathis Soumelidis. If this group gets on a track, playoff hockey will continue toward the latter part of April for the Mayhem.