There has been hockey in Columbus, Georgia for twenty years, spanning three leagues. The possibility exists there may not be a twenty-first. Thursday, Columbus Cottonmouths owner Wanda Amos revealed she intends to sell the storied franchise and charter member of the SPHL. Should Amos be unsuccessful in finding a new owner, the Cottonmouths will become the second SPHL team to suspend operations in as many years – the other being the Louisiana IceGators.
In an interview with the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Amos the Cottonmouths have lost money nearly every year they have owned the team, most years the losses neared or exceeded six figures. Over the past ten years, attendance has dropped by almost 900 fans per game and the Snakes are on pace to have their lowest attendance level in franchise history. Compounding the lack of box office revenue was the medical and equipment expenses related to January’s bus crash.
There have been unconfirmed rumblings of parties interested in purchasing the Cottonmouths and we will continue to follow this developing story.
Welcome to March Mania!
The calendar has just flipped into March and we’re at the point of the season where our players currently in the ECHL begin to make their way back to their SPHL teams for the push to the playoffs. We have seen four players return over the past week, with Evansville’s Brandon Lubin, Macon’s Nick Grasso, Mississippi’s Mike Moran, Penascola’s Louis Belisle, and Peoria goalie Tyler Parks returning to their teams. Additionally, Roanoke’s Mike Driscoll and Evansville’s Brad Cuzner have been waived by their respective ECHL teams and may be back as early as this weekend. We have released our brand new player tracker so you can see who has returned and who is still playing ECHL hockey.
March is also the beginning of playoff season, the time of year where we play close attention to the standings and possible playoff matchups. Another feature of our website is our updated playoff tracker, where we not only show what the current playoff matchups would be but also playoff brackets based off of our projections. Speaking of projections, let’s show what they look like in graphic form.
Don’t worry… I’ll translate. The pointer (>) symbol shows each team’s current point total. The star (★) symbol is the projection. The yellow and red shading designate the current projection margin of error. The blue, orange, and green shading show the estimated break points for securing playoff berths, first round home ice, and the top overall seed. Anywhere you see teams’ projection sliders overlap, you have a playoff race for a particular seed. This week’s playoff graph shows us a few things.
- Six teams – Macon, Huntsville, Fayetteville, Peoria, Knoxville, and Mississippi – are over the estimated threshold to secure a playoff berth.
- Macon and Huntsville are in a tight race for the regular season title. The Mayhem and Havoc will play four more times this season – March 24th-26th and April 1st.
- The five upcoming games between Peoria and Fayetteville will be crucial in deciding the #3 seed. The teams meet in Fayetteville next weekend and in Peoria on March 31st-April 2nd.
- If Pensacola gets on a hot streak under Rod Aldoff, they could contend for the fifth/sixth seeds. Eight of the Ice Flyers’ remaining 15 games are against Knoxville and Mississippi.
- Roanoke and Columbus will go down to the wire for the eighth and final playoff seed. The two teams play each other in Roanoke on March 24th, 25th, and April 4th.
- Evansville would have to win ten of their final 13 games to have a shot at making the playoffs.
Each week during playoff season, we’ll have a special section of SPHL GameNight where we continue to break down the playoff prospects for all of the teams in the league, point out trends, and continue to focus our playoff projections.
Title Belt Game: Mississippi RiverKings at Macon Mayhem
- The Mayhem go for their third Title Belt defense tonight since reacquiring the belt on February 19th against Fayetteville.
- Fifth meeting between the Mayhem and Kings. Macon leads the series, 3-1.
- Your penalty kill has no power here! Power play percentage vs. opponent: Macon – 35.7%, Mississippi – 46.7%
- Mississippi’s Ryan Marcuz has the league’s longest current point-scoring streak at ten games. A goal or assist tonight would tie him for the longest streak this season at eleven.
- The Mayhem’s Matt Summers has the hot hand lately – Summers has five goals in his last five games.
- Sin Bin Swami sez: The Mayhem are 4-1-0 in their last five home games, while the RiverKings are 2-3-0 over their last five road games. Break the conventional wisdom. Mississippi 5, Macon 4.
Columbus Cottonmouths at Knoxville Ice Bears
- Tonight’s game is the fourth of six games between the teams. The Snakes have a 2-1 advantage, including the last two wins against the Ice Bears a month ago.
- Columbus’ Keegan Bruce has had the hot hand lately and especially so against Knoxville. Bruce has four goals and two assists against Knoxville this year.
- Knoxville’s Danny Cesarz has the longest current goal scoring streak at three games. Cesarz scored 21 assists to begin the season before scoring his first goal on January 13th.
- Plus/Minus ratings over the last five games: Knoxville – minus 16, Columbus – plus 10.
- Sin Bin Swami sez: Columbus gave Knoxville fits when the teams played last month. Neither team has been asserting themselves defensively, so favor the scorers here. Columbus 4, Knoxville 3 (OT)
Fayetteville FireAntz at Huntsville Havoc
- Tonight is the second game between the Havoc and FireAntz and the first time Jeff Bes‘ team visits the Von Braun Center this season. Fayetteville defeated Huntsville, 7-1, on February 17th. After tonight, the teams play three more times.
- The league’s top two plus/minus leaders face off tonight. Huntsville’s Nolan Kaiser has a +21 rating, with Fayetteville’s Tayler Thompson just behind at +18.
- Former Louisiana IceGator Blake Hietala will appear in his first SPHL game this season for the Havoc. Hietala was released earlier this week by the Kalamazoo Wings.
- Gripping the sticks tight: Shooting percentages, last five games: Huntsville – 9.0% (15/166), Fayetteville – 7.7% (13/168)
- Sin Bin Swami sez: In a game between two teams struggling somewhat offensively, tonight could be a goalie battle where Sean Bonar has a decisive edge. Fayetteville 2, Huntsville 1.
Evansville Thunderbolts at Pensacola Ice Flyers
- First ever meeting between the teams as the Thunderbolts make their first trip to the Gulf Coast. The teams will play four times this season, with the Flyers making the trip to Indiana next weekend.
- Pensacola coach Rod Aldoff plays his first game at the Hangar since being re-named as the Flyers head coach.
- Massimo Lamacchia makes his first appearance in a Pensacola sweater since being traded in the swap which sent Riley Spraggs to Roanoke. Lamacchia has 14 goals and 22 assists in 41 games for the Dawgs.
- Brad Cuzner may be back with the Thunderbolts this weekend. He was released by the Wichita Thunder on Thursday.
- Sin Bin Swami sez: I’m sure the Bolts will win a few more games this season, but not on Aldoff’s return to Pensacola. Blowout alert. Pensacola 5, Evansville 1.
Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs at Peoria Rivermen
- The Dawgs visit Carver Arena for the first time ever to face the Rivs.
- When visiting an arena for the first time, Roanoke is 1-5-1. The lone win was against the Thunderbolts on October 28th. The Dawgs have yet to visit Macon.
- Recent trade acquisition Riley Spraggs was held without a shot in his first game with the Dawgs against the FireAntz on Tuesday night. Spraggs was dealt from Pensacola in exchange for Massimo Lamacchia.
- Connor Gorman has ten points in the Rivs last ten games, scoring seven goals with three assists.
- Sin Bin Swami sez: Make it 1-6-1. Peoria 5, Roanoke 2.
- Columbus at Knoxville: 7:30 ET
- Mississippi at Macon: 7:35 ET (Title Belt Game)
- Fayetteville at Huntsville: 7:00 CT
- Evansville at Pensacola: 7:05 CT
- Roanoke at Peoria: 7:05 CT
- Fayetteville at Columbus: 4:00 ET
- Pensacola at Macon: 4:05 ET
- Roanoke at Peoria: 3:05 ET
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