We’re rapidly approaching the month of March and already spring is in the air. The SPHL regular season is down to its last seven weekends of play and the push to the playoffs is beginning. Perhaps the real first sign of spring, despite what some groundhog says, is the league’s trade deadline.

This year’s deadline falls on February 27th, after which no more trades may occur. Don’t expect lots of fireworks or blockbuster trades. Unlike the higher hockey leagues, the SPHL’s deadline typically passes without much incident. This season, we have seen a pair of trades go down this week.

First, a three-team trade involving the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, Knoxville Ice Bears, and Mississippi RiverKings took place on Tuesday. Mitchell Vandergunst was sent by the RiverKings to the Ice Bears, who in turn sent defenseman Travis Jeke (Currently on an ECHL call-up in Toledo) to Roanoke, who transferred the rights to forward Michael Turner (currently with Orlando) to Mississippi. On Wednesday, the Fayetteville FireAntz acquired a solid backup goaltender for Sean Bonar in a trade with the Peoria Rivermen for Tyler Green.

Plenty of progress toward an 11th SPHL team joining the league took place this week. The proposal spearheaded by former ECHL Birmingham Bulls owner Art Clarkson received approval from the Pelham (AL) city council to enter into a lease agreement with the Pelham Civic Complex. The two-rink complex features a primary rink which currently seats about 3,500 seats, with plans to expand seating to reach 4,000. Clarkson’s group is working closely with league commissioner Jim Combs to obtain final approval to join the league. If successful, the Birmingham team will begin play in the 2017-18 season.

One developing story we will be following closely next season is the city of Pensacola’s decision on the future of the aging Pensacola Bay Center, home of the Pensacola Ice Flyers. The 30-year-old facility is showing signs of age and proposals to renovate/rebuild the arena are being considered. Another option is to replace the facility with a building to support conventions and concerts – with no provision for pro hockey. During the January 30th joint meeting of the Pensacola City Council and Escambia County Commission, Commission Chairman Doug Underhill, an opponent of a hockey provision for any new building, made some troubling comments, which we will air in the video below.

Keep in mind this is all very early in the discovery process, but the fact Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris is being shut out of discussions is disturbing. We will continue to keep close tabs on any arena news as this story continues to develop.

On our latest episode of our Inside the SPHL Podcast, Matt Harding and I welcome SPHL Commissioner Jim Combs to the show!

We talk about the Birmingham proposal to enter the league, get his comments on the resistance of the Escambia County Commission to include the Pensacola Ice Flyers in the early planning phases of a replacement for the Pensacola Bay Center. It’s an episode you don’t want to miss!

Coming up in March on The Sin Bin, we begin ramping up our SPHL coverage as the teams begin their playoff push. We will begin to track our players currently on ECHL call-ups as some of them make their return to the SPHL for the postseason. Also, we will begin to make our weekly playoff projections and see which playoff positions will be hotly contested. Look for special guests from across the SPHL to make appearances on Inside the SPHL next month and a special playoff preview show at the end of the regular season. Exciting times!

Tonight’s Game Capsules

Title Belt Game: Pensacola Ice Flyers at Macon Mayhem

  • The Mayhem make their first Title Belt defense since re-taking the belt from the Fayetteville FireAntz on February 19th. Macon is playing in their eighth consecutive Title Belt Game, going 5-2 in their last seven contests.
  • The Mayhem and the Ice Flyers are meeting for the sixth time this season. Macon leads the season series with a 4-0-1 record. Macon won the last game against Pensacola on January 28th, 3-1.
  • Pensacola’s scoring line of Corey Banfield, Josh Harris, and Riley Spraggs have combined for seven goals and twelve assists in their last five games.
  • The Mayhem are 19-2-2 when scoring first, tied with Huntsville for the best in the league.
  • Macon has the league’s best record in one-goal games, going 13-3-5.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: Another big test for the resurgent Ice Flyers against a Macon team which is playing well. This game goes down to special teams, and give Pensacola the edge. Pensacola 3, Macon 1.

Fayetteville FireAntz at Knoxville Ice Bears

  • Fourth meeting between the teams this season. The FireAntz have won all three previous games – one in regulation, one in overtime, and one in the shootout.
  • Sean Bonar has played in all three games in the series for Fayetteville, going 3-0-0 with a 1.61 GAA and a .943 SV%.
  • Neither Fayetteville nor Knoxville has scored a power play goal in this season series.
  • Over the last five games, the FireAntz have had ten players score three or more points while Knoxville has only four.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: Bonar shines in his 25th consecutive start for the Antz. 4-1 Fayetteville.

Columbus Cottonmouths at Huntsville Havoc

  • The Havoc have won five of the six games played between the teams this season.
  • Huntsville is winless in their last four games, the longest winless streak for the team since January 15-23, 2016.
  • Columbus’ Keegan Bruce has six of the Snakes’ 14 game-winning goals and six goals in his last five games.
  • The Havoc took a big hit to their roster with the loss of 20-goal-scorer Lou Educate, placed on season-ending IR this week. Educate finishes the season with an impressive 31 points (20G/11A) and five game-winning goals.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: Columbus is peaking right now, and the Havoc suffered so many big hits to their roster recently. Color me crazy, but Huntsville’s revenge for last week’s 7-5 loss will NOT be avenged. Snakes, 4-3.

Evansville Thunderbolts at Peoria Rivermen

  • Tenth of twelve games this season between the Bolts and Rivs, and the second of four games in this week’s home-and-home-and-home-and-home series. Peoria leads the season series with a 6-1-2 record.
  • Four of the last nine games, including the last two games between the Bolts and Rivs, have ended in a 2-1 decision. Evansville has won three of these games.
  • Peoria winger Cody Dion has feasted on Evansville hospitality this season. The 6’5 winger has six goals and three assists against the Thunderbolts this season.
  • There has been a noticeable exodus of players from the Thunderbolts to the ECHL. Austin McKay, Brandon Lubin, Brad Cuzner and Justin MacDonald have all taken call-ups over the past two weeks. Lubin’s call-up to the Utah Grizzlies ended this week, but the Bolts still have four players (including Cincinnati’s Frank Misuraca) up in the ECHL.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: Dangerous game for the Rivs. Jean-Guy Trudel‘s crew need to find the back of the net and keep Evansville out of striking distance. I think it happens, despite the Bolts playing Peoria tough. Peoria 5, Evansville 2.

Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs at Mississippi RiverKings

  • The Rail Yard Dawgs make their first-ever trip to Landers Center for a two-game weekend set. The teams played two games in Roanoke on January 12-13, with the Dawgs winning both games.
  • Roanoke’s Mike Moroso had the hot hand against the Kings, leading the Dawgs with three goals in the January series.
  • Mississippi’s Ryan Marcuz has five goals and three assists over his last five games.
  • Special teams may be a factor this weekend. The RiverKings are second in the league at home on the power play with a 19.2% conversion rate. On the flip side, the Dawgs kill only 78.9% of penalty kills – ninth in the league.
  • Sin Bin Swami sez: The Kings will have their revenge. Mississippi 4, Roanoke 2.

Tomorrow’s Games

  • Macon at Knoxville – 7:30 ET
  • Fayetteville at Columbus – 7:30 ET
  • Pensacola at Huntsville – 7:00 CT
  • Peoria at Evansville – 7:15 CT
  • Roanoke at Mississippi – 7:30 CT

Sunday’s Games

  • Evansville at Peoria – 5:05 CT

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