Happy Hockey Friday, y’all! We’ve had a surprisingly busy holiday week here in the SPHL and at The Sin Bin. Hopefully, your upcoming new year’s resolution includes purchasing season tickets for your favorite team. It’s the kind of resolution you’d be happy to keep!
First, a little shameless self-promotion. We aired our 2016 SPHL Year In Review Podcast over the holidays. Matthew Harding and I had a great time putting it together along with all of our Inside the SPHL Podcast episodes this season. We covered all of the major news stories from 2016 and included a wish list for the upcoming year. There was so much to talk about, we wisely split the show into two parts. Go on, check out both Part 1 and Part 2!
What? You don’t subscribe to our podcasts? Let’s fix this right now. You can get all of our great shows regardless of what kind of computer or phone you have. We’re on iTunes, Android, Google Play, Stitcher, and most other platforms.
On to more self-promotion… Last year’s fantasy beatdown of the FHL’s so-called best players was a big hit with you fans, so we are bringing back our special SPHL All-Star Team for season number two. This year, we’re letting you – the fans – have a voice in putting together this season’s dream team. Yesterday, we announced six players from each SPHL team as finalists, and beginning on January 3rd, you guys will be able to vote for your favorites.
Now… on to a little hockey. The league had an exciting post-Christmas Tuesday night with a four-game evening of hockey. The Mississippi RiverKings forced overtime against the Knoxville Ice Bears after going down 3-0 in the first period, while the crown at the Crown Center got some bonus hockey between the Fayetteville FireAntz and Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. The Pensacola Ice Flyers kept it close against the Macon Mayhem, but the SPHL leaders pulled away with a pair of empty-netters late. Finally, the Huntsville Havoc blew out the Columbus Cottonmouths in front of a sellout crowd at the Von Braun Center. Enough words – have some highlights.
Title Belt Game: Evansville Thunderbolts at Huntsville Havoc
- The Bolts make their first Title Belt defense after re-acquiring the hardware from Peoria on December 23rd.
- After this game, the Pensacola Ice Flyers will be the only team the Thunderbolts have not faced this season. The Havoc have yet to play Macon.
- Former Evansville IceMen forward Andrew Harrison was signed by the Thunderbolts. Last season in the ECHL, Harrison scored 11 points in 30 games for Evansville.
- The call-up factor – Huntsville defenseman Nolan Kaiser is in Adirondack, while Bolts blueliner Frank Schumacher is in Fort Wayne.
- Steel Curtain vs. Iron Curtain – Havoc netminder Tyler Steel has been red hot lately, going 3-0-0 with a 1.46 GAA and a .964 SV% in his last three starts. Steel’s Evansville counterpart, Tanner Milliron, has also been on a roll. Milliron has been solid with a 1.97 GAA and a .937 SV% to go along with a 2-1-0 record over his last three appearances.
- Sin Bin Swami Sez: Huntsville is 8-1-1 in their last 10. Evansville is decent, but not remarkable. They’re bringing a knife to a gun fight tonight. Take Huntsville.
Macon Mayhem at Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs
- Tonight, the league-leading Mayhem take their first trip to the Berglund Center in the first-ever game with the last-place Dawgs.
- The call-up factor – Macon’s Collin MacDonald took his second trip to the ECHL, this time with the Indy Fuel (poor guy!) Roanoke left winger Colin Murray, a relative newcomer to the Dawgs, is now a Greenville Swamp Rabbit.
- Adding injury to call-up… Jackson Brewer, Roanoke’s leading scorer, is on the 14-day IR.
- The Dawgs have the third-highest penalty minute rate at 15.26 per game. Could be a factor tonight – the Mayhem convert 32.3 percent of power plays on the road.
- Sin Bin Swami Sez: Macon is 9-1 on the road. Roanoke isn’t good at all. League best vs league worst. This is a no brainer. Macon.
Fayetteville FireAntz at Knoxville Ice Bears
- Hard to fathom, perhaps, but the wacky SPHL schedule makes tonight the Bears and Antz first meeting since Fayetteville beat Knoxville in Game 3 of the first round of the 2016 President’s Cup Playoffs. The Ice Bears won the regular season series, winning six of nine against Fayetteville.
- If both netminders start tonight, it will be the first time Knoxville’s Brian Billett and Fayetteville’s Sean Bonar go head-to-head in the regular season. Both goalies had 3-0-0 records against their respective opponents last season.
- The injury bug bit the Ice Bears’ Brad Pawlowski again. The blueliner appeared to take a hit in the corner in the second period of Tuesday night’s game against the RiverKings and did not return. The team placed Pawlowski was placed on the 21-day IR yesterday.
- The Antz newest acquisition, goaltender Alex Caffi, may see his first action since being traded from the RiverKings. The Italian netminder, playing his first season in North America, split decisions in two games with Mississippi with a 2.50 GAA and a .915 SV%.
- Sin Bin Swami Sez: Fayetteville hasn’t played anyone not named Macon or Roanoke since before Thanksgiving. Knoxville is good at home and their struggles have come from Mississippi. Take Knoxville at home against the Fire Antz.
Columbus Cottonmouths at Pensacola Ice Flyers
- Unlike our previous game capsules, these two teams have actually played each other this season. The Snakes lead the season series against the Flyers, three games to two.
- Pensacola goalies Matt Zenzola and John McLean have combined for seven quality starts over their last eight games. Their Columbus counterparts, Brandon Jaeger and Gordon Ceasar, have two quality starts over the same span. Both teams have exactly two wins each.
- Pensacola’s Riley Spraggs, recently traded over from the Cottonmouths, has a three-game goal scoring streak.
- An early lead may be the difference tonight. Pensacola is 0-6-0 at home when not leading after the first period, while Columbus is a perfect 3-0-0 on the road when they go into the first intermission with the lead.
- Sin Bin Swami decided to break his crystal ball rather than be forced to make a prediction. Dawnie Danger decided to go with Columbus, while I’ll pick the Flyers to win. Because goaltending.
Mississippi RiverKings at Peoria Rivermen
- The teams met in Southaven on November 20th in their only meeting of the 16-17 season. The RiverKings prevailed, 4-3, on Cullen Bradshaw’s overtime winner.
- Todd Hosmer makes his return to the RiverKings’ lineup tonight after being placed on the IR on November 10th. As no good news goes unpunished around here… Matt Harrington takes his place.
- Call-ups and player moves are affecting both teams this week. Peter Di Salvo makes the jump to the Wichita Thunder – Andy DiCristofaro arrives from FHL St. Claire Shores to replace Di Salvo. Steven Hoshaw is now a RiverKing in a trade which sent goaltender Alex Caffi to Fayetteville. Earlier this week… A pair of top players for the RiverKings took ECHL call-ups – Mike Moran to Atlanta and Chris Leone to Toledo.
- Meanwhile… in Peoria… Storm Phaneuf has returned to the team after being waived after opening weekend. He’ll replace goalie Tyler Parks, who is off to the Missouri Mavericks. Defenseman Chris Weidauer is up with the Brampton Beast and Michael Colantone is now a Colorado Eagle. Former SPHL Defenseman of the Year Brandon Greenside will make his first appearance of the season after serving an end-of-season suspension and a stint on IR.
- Sin Bin Swami (with a new crystal ball) Sez: Peoria is better on the road than they are at home. Mississippi is good everywhere. Plus they owe me a win for losing last week in my picks. I like Mississippi in this one.
New Year’s Eve Games
- Knoxville at Roanoke – 7:05 ET
- Pensacola at Columbus – 7:30 ET
- Macon at Fayetteville – 7:30 ET
- Mississippi at Peoria – 7:05 CT
- Huntsville at Evansville – 7:15 CT