LAFAYETTE, La. — Thirty games into the 2018-19 season, the Peoria Rivermen have racked up a 24-3-3 record – the best in all of professional hockey. The team is currently on pace for an unprecedented 42 wins. The Rivermen lead the SPHL in goals scored and have allowed fewer tallies than any other team in the league.

All of Peoria’s well-deserved accolades now mean absolutely nothing. Congratulations, Peoria – your real season begins today.

The Rivermen begin their toughest stretch of the season-to-date: a two-week road trip to Pensacola and Macon. Six games over the next nine nights to prove their mettle the rest of the league and send a message for the postseason. Thirteen of the Rivermen’s next 15 games will be played against teams not named the Quad City Storm and Evansville Thunderbolts, whom the Rivermen have racked up an incredible 18-1-1 record against.

This weekend’s series against the Pensacola Ice Flyers has been a trouble spot for the Rivermen. Historically, the Hangar has been a house of horrors for Peoria. The Rivermen have a 2-10-2 lifetime record in the Pensacola Bay Center and have never bested the Ice Flyers in regulation.

If I asked Jean-Guy Trudel and Rod Aldoff if this weekend was circled in their calendars, they would both tell me no. It’s an answer I’d expect from any hockey coach. In truth, these men have this weekend circled, highlighted, and ringed in big flashing LED lights. The 9-18-2 Ice Flyers are hungry, and looking for the opportunity to break out and gain momentum for a playoff push, while the Rivermen want to prove to everyone their stellar record is no fluke.

This weekend’s three-game set means everything to both teams, and I expect playoff-level intensity from the Rivermen and Ice Flyers: I can’t imagine anything less.

Tonight’s Game Capsules

Evansville Thunderbolts at Fayetteville Marksmen – 7:00 ET

  • Tonight’s game marks the beginning of a three-game/three-night weekend between the teams. On November 8th, the Thunderbolts defeated the Marksmen, 5-3, in their lone meeting this season.
  • Fayetteville captain Jake Hauswirth has been on a goal-scoring tear this month. Over the last ten games, Hauswirth has racked up ten goals with two assists.
  • The Thunderbolts are 0-11-1 in twelve road games this season and are the lone SPHL team without a road victory this season.
  • Fayetteville (2-2-0) is one of three teams with a .500 or better record when trailing at home after the first period.
  • With head coach Ian Moran under a one-week team suspension as a result of last weekend’s OWI arrest, former Bolts defenseman Bo Driscoll will be behind the Evansville bench.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: If there is any time for the Thunderbolts to circle the wagons, it’s on a long road trip like this. Yeah, right. Fayetteville 5, Evansville 3.

Quad City Storm at Knoxville Ice Bears – 7:30 ET

  • The Storm visit the KCAC for a two-game set against the Ice Bears. In the four previous games, the Ice Bears hold a 3-0-1 edge.
  • Time for our weekly check-in on the Ice Bears’ penalty kill. Going into the weekend, the Knoxville penalty kill in the friendly confines of the KCAC sits at an astronomical 95 percent.
  • Once atop the SPHL on the power play, the Storm have cooled off a bit. Quad City is down to a tie for second with the man advantage at 20.3 percent.
  • Knoxville’s Danny Cesarz is in sole possession of the league’s scoring lead with 36 points (12G/24A).
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: Tonight, it all depends on whether Jekyll or Hyde show up for the Ice Bears. I like Knoxville at home. Knoxville 3, Quad City 2.

Huntsville Havoc at Macon Mayhem – 7:30 ET

  • The Rivalry of Ruin returns for an encore with the Havoc and Mayhem playing a home-and-home series this weekend. The squads last faced off at the Von Braun Center back on November 11th with the Mayhem taking a 3-2 decision over the Havoc.
  • Last week, Macon’s Alexander Taulien caught fire with a five-goal outburst. Taulien has six goals and three assists over his last five games.
  • Mike DeLaVergne seems to have found his groove again in the Havoc crease. DeLaVergne has won his last three starts, allowing only five goals with a .934 save percentage.
  • The Huntsville Havoc have 12 road wins on the season, more than any other SPHL team.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: Every team goes on a run at some point during the season and it looks like the Havoc are on theirs. Huntsville 4, Macon 3.

Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs at Birmingham Bulls – 7:30 CT

  • On December 6th, the teams met in Roanoke in their only match this season, with the Dawgs besting the Bulls, 4-2.
  • Austin Daae has had the hot hand for the home squad, scoring seven and helping on two over the last five games. Daae’s shooting percentage over the stretch is at an astronomical 46.7 percent.
  • Brad Barone, the reigning SPHL Goalie of the Year, is back with the Dawgs and up to old tricks. Barone is 2-0-0 with a 2.50 GAA and .923 SV% in his two starts since returning from ECHL Newfoundland.
  • The Bulls and Dawgs are 1-2 in the SPHL in shorthanded scoring. Roanoke has seven shorties, while Birmingham has scored four when playing a man down.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: With both teams struggling to find consistency as of late, this game is a coin flip. Tails never fails. Birmingham 3, Roanoke 2.

Peoria Rivermen at Pensacola Ice Flyers – 7:35 CT

  • The Ice Flyers visited Carver Arena on November 24th in the teams’ only game this season, with the Rivermen needing extra time to ground the Ice Flyers, 3-2.
  • On March 15th of last year, the Rivermen won their first game in the Bay Center since the 2014-15 season with a 2-1 shootout win, breaking an eight-game skid at the Hangar.
  • At the Pensacola Bay Center, the Ice Flyers have outscored the Rivermen 55-30.
  • Over the last ten games, Ryan Marcuz leads the Ice Flyers with four goals. Five Rivermen players have four or more goals over the same span.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: Throw out the records when these teams get together. Pensacola/Peoria is the best rivalry in the SPHL, and we’re going to see another great battle tonight. Time for the Rivermen to break the Hangar Curse. Peoria 3, Pensacola 1.

Saturday’s SPHL Slate

Macon at Huntsville – 3:00 CT
Evansville at Fayetteville – 6:00 ET
Quad City at Knoxville – 7:30 ET
Roanoke at Birmingham – 7:00 CT
Peoria at Pensacola – 7:05 CT