Pensacola Sweeps Peoria at the Hangar
This past weekend, the league was treated to a possible President’s Cup Final matchup between the top two teams, with the league-leading Peoria Rivermen heading south to face the Pensacola Ice Flyers. The thrilling three-game series provided fans with end-to-end action, excellent goaltending, intense physical play, and high drama. All of the games were decided in the third period, with the Ice Flyers sweeping the Rivermen in three hotly-contested games. The defeats marked the first time the Rivs were swept in three games since November 21-23, 2013. Coincidentally, it was the Ice Flyers who accomplished the feat at Carver Arena.
Pensacola’s top line of Corey Banfield, Adam Pawlick, and Joe Caveney – arguably the best line in the league – combined for 16 points (7G/9A) and all three game-winners against the SPHL’s top goaltending tandem of Peoria’s Kyle Rank and David Jacobson. Defensively, Pensacola held Rivermen scoring ace Adam Stuart to two assists in the series but Peoria found their scoring from Walker Wintoneak (2G/1A), Dave Pszenyczny (1G/2A), and Brandon Greenside (1G/2A).
President’s Cup Playoff Outlook
Only three weeks remain in the regular season, and the race for postseason positioning has kicked into high gear. This week, we look at each team’s playoff prospects and big games in the remaining schedule.
Peoria Rivermen (34-12-3, 71 points)
With seven games remaining, the Rivs’ magic number is at three. This magic number is not for a playoff berth, Peoria clinched almost a month ago. The Rivermen need a combination of three points, or three missed points by the second place Pensacola to clinch their second consecutive regular season title and home ice advantage throughout the President’s Cup playoffs.
Remaining games (7): Mississippi RiverKings (2), Knoxville Ice Bears (2), Columbus Cottonmouths (3). The Rivermen are virtually assured of the regular season title, but several SPHL records are within reach – most notably the best regular season record and fewest goals allowed in a season.
Pensacola Ice Flyers (28-17-4, 60 points)
The Ice Flyers, flying high after a three-game sweep of the Peoria Rivermen, are currently the hottest team in the SPHL. Pensacola clinched a President’s Cup berth last weekend, and have a magic number of 10 points to secure home ice in the first round.
Remaining games (7): Macon, Louisiana (2), Huntsville (2), Mississippi (2). The season-ending series with the RiverKings may likely determine the second overall seed in the playoffs and home ice advantage through the second round.
Mississippi RiverKings (26-15-8, 60 points)
The RiverKings have consistently been at or near the top of the SPHL standings throughout the season. Goaltender Peter Di Salvo has returned to the team after a successful long-term stint in the ECHL, and is expected to backstop the team into the postseason. The Kings clinched their playoff berth last week, and – like the Ice Flyers – also have a magic number of 10 points to clinch home ice in the opening round of the playoffs.
Remaining games (7): Peoria (2), Fayetteville (2), Louisiana, Pensacola (2). The RiverKings have their next five games on the road before hosting the Ice Flyers in a crucial season finale. The RiverKings and Ice Flyers are projected to vie for the second playoff seed.
Knoxville Ice Bears (26-19-5, 57 points)
Knoxville clinched their playoff berth last weekend, but do not have control of their destiny to secure home ice advantage in the first round. The Ice Bears started the season at the bottom of the league, but came out of hibernation in January and proceeded to shoot quickly up the standings.
Remaining games (6): Huntsville, Columbus, Peoria (2), Louisiana (2). With only six games remaining, the Ice Bears have few opportunities to prevent fifth-place Fayetteville from overtaking them in the standings. Fortunately for Knoxville, they have a four point head start.
Fayetteville FireAntz (25-19-3, 53 points)
Despite missing the postseason the past two seasons, the FireAntz began this season as one of the top teams in the SPHL. Goalie Parker Van Buskirk has played well after the call-up of ace tendy Sean Bonar to the ECHL. The Antz’ magic numbers are at five points for a President’s cup postseason spot, and 18 for home ice advantage in the first round.
Remaining games (9): Columbus (2), Macon (3), Mississippi (2), Huntsville (2). The FireAntz have a favorable schedule, and plenty of opportunities to overtake the Ice Bears for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Huntsville Havoc (23-24-4, 50 points)
The Havoc have rebounded from a disastrous 29-point campaign last season to a return to respectability. Huntsville cooled off late in the season after a hot start after losing star goaltender Jordan Ruby to the ECHL, and sit in a battle for sixth place with the Louisiana IceGators and Macon Mayhem. Huntsville’s magic number for a playoff spot is currently at eight points.
Remaining games (5): Knoxville, Pensacola (2), Fayetteville (2). The Havoc can clinch a spot in the President’s cup playoffs as soon as Sunday, but it’s most likely Huntsville will make the eight-team field next weekend. Only two points separate the Havoc and the Louisiana IceGators for sixth place, and not very many opportunities to extend their lead over Louisiana.
Louisiana IceGators (22-24-4, 48 points)
Louisiana have struggled with consistency this season, and they will have to find some in their push to the playoffs. Their magic number sits at 10 points and are projected to finish seventh, however, they have equal chances to move past Huntsville for the sixth seed or miss the postseason entirely.
Remaining games (6): Pensacola (2), Columbus, Mississippi, Knoxville (2). The IceGators have a high degree of difficulty in their remaining schedule, as they are winless against both the Ice Flyers (0-7-1) and Ice Bears (0-2-0). They will have to earn a couple of victories against Pensacola and Knoxville is they are to have a shot at overtaking Huntsville. A late-season losing streak could find the Gators out of the postseason altogether.
Macon Mayhem (21-25-5, 47 points)
At first glance at the league standings, it seems the Macon Mayhem are the lone team not in control of their postseason destiny. However, the Mayhem’s season finale on April 1st against the Cottonmouths could potentially be the game which clinches Macon’s postseason berth in their inaugural season. Should the Mayhem win out, they would lock Columbus out of the postseason. Essentially, Macon’s magic number sits at 11 points.
Remaining games (5): Pensacola, Fayetteville (3), Columbus. Thanks to a quirk in the SPHL schedule, the Mayhem’s regular season ends one week before the rest of the league. Macon’s game at Columbus to conclude the regular season will be the game which could very well decide the final spot in the President’s Cup playoffs.
Columbus Cottonmouths (17-23-8, 42 points)
After a pair of long losing streaks earlier in the season, the Snakes are on the verge of missing their first President’s Cup playoffs in team history. Columbus have rebounded late in the season, and with eight games remaining, have a slight chance to go on a hot streak and catch the Mayhem for the final berth in the postseason. The Snakes are in control of their playoff destiny with a magic number of 16 points.
Remaining games (8): Fayetteville (2), Knoxville, Macon, Louisiana, Peoria (3). The Snakes next five games – especially the games next weekend against Macon and Louisiana – are crucial to their postseason hopes. Otherwise, Columbus will go into their season-ending series with the Rivermen with the unenviable task of sweeping Peoria at Carver Arena. History doesn’t favor the Cottonmouths, who have only one regular-season win in Peoria in three seasons.
Fayetteville FireAntz at Columbus Cottonmouths – 7:30 ET
- The first of several must-win games for Columbus if they are going to make a playoff run. The FireAntz can all but lock in a playoff berth with a victory tonight.
- Sixth of seven games between the teams. Columbus leads the season series, 3-2-0.
- The FireAntz’ Kyle Gibbons leads the SPHL in goals with 29.
- Columbus have the league’s lowest home-ice power play at 7.6%. However, they have a 25.0% power play success rate against Fayetteville.
- Fayetteville has outshot Columbus in the series, 183-156.
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