#4 Huntsville Havoc vs #7 Mississippi RiverKings
In the Regular Season
Havoc: 30-16-10 — 70 points (4th in SPHL)
RiverKings: 29-25-2 — 60 points (7th)
Game 1 — 4/12/18 at Southaven – 7:00 CT
Game 2 — 4/14/18 at Huntsville – 7:00 CT
Game 3 — 4/15/18 at Huntsville – 5:00 CT (if necessary)
The Season According to Huntsville
The Huntsville Havoc’s season can be described as positively serene compared to their SPHL counterparts. The Havoc dealt with the fewest callups (7) of any of the league’s teams, have had the same two goaltenders on the roster the entire season, and have been relatively injury free over the second half of the season. Still, a team with the talent like Sy Nutkevitch, Stuart Stefan, Nolan Kaiser, and Shawn Bates should be better than fourth at the end of the regular season.
So, what gives? The Havoc had lots of trouble closing out opponents in 60 minutes. Sixteen of their games went past regulation, and the Havoc dropped ten of those contests. On the plus side, nine of those overtime losses were on the road. So while Huntsville has allowed more games to go to overtime than any other team this season, they have proven to be a difficult team to take out when away from the Von Braun Center.
Offensively, Nutkevitch and second-year forward Christian Powers continue to power the Havoc offensively, while familiar faces Stefan, Kaiser, and Andy Willigar anchor the blue line. Should the Havoc get past the RiverKings, a possible semifinal rematch with the Peoria Rivermen awaits them.
The Season According to Mississippi
The Mississippi RiverKings were on top of the world around Thanksgiving. Derek Landmesser‘s boys were 8-2-0, on a six-game win streak, and just dusted the Peoria Rivermen 6-2 at Carver Arena. By the first weekend of December, the Kings were 10-3-0 and considered by us to be the SPHL’s top team.
Their next ten wins would take the RiverKings two-and-a-half months. The ECHL call-ups of Vytal Cote, Donald Olivieri, Dan Tedesco, and Derek Sutliffe in rapid succession left the RiverKings reeling. After the new year, the Kings lost defenseman Richard Coyne to injury and Dillan Fox to the ECHL.
By the end of March, all of the team’s big names returned from their ECHL assignments and the RiverKings finished strong, winning six of their last seven – including two of three against the Havoc.
Like their opponents in this series, the RiverKings also enjoyed stability in the crease. Huntsville and Mississippi are the only two teams not to have a goaltender play in the ECHL this season. Tyler Green has been the workhorse in the pipes for Mississippi, but Jared Rutledge‘s improvement has made goaltending duties more of a timeshare by the season’s end. This series is a rematch of last year’s first-round matchup. Can the RiverKings exact a little revenge from 2017?
When these teams played in the regular season
The Havoc won the first five games of the season series with the RiverKings. Mississippi finished strong, winning the last two games on March 31th and April 6th. Ironically for Huntsville, only one game with Mississippi went to overtime this season. Unfortunately for Huntsville, the result was one of their ten overtime/shootout losses.
Huntsville’s Keys to Winning
- A healthy Nolan Kaiser back in the lineup. The All-SPHL blueliner has been the key to Huntsville’s fortunes. With Kaiser off of IR and back from Adirondack, the Havoc can lean on their star defenseman.
- Opening up the ice. The Havoc have a pair of speedsters in Bates and Tyler Piacentini. With defensemen like Stefan and Kaiser skilled in moving the puck, look for Huntsville to test Mississippi’s speed in getting back in the zone by striking quickly.
- The quarterback I haven’t mentioned. Defenseman Anthony Calabrese has the ability to control the game in the offensive zone. If the Havoc can sustain some possession time with Calabrese at the point, good things will happen.
Mississippi’s Keys to Winning
- Bring back November. It looks like the pieces are back in place from when the RiverKings made their impressive November run and have won six of their last seven to finish the regular season. When Fox, Tedesco, and Sutliffe are clicking, Mississippi will be tough to beat.
- Leaders playing like leaders. Mississippi has two of the best role-players in Devin Mantha and Ryan Marcuz. The veteran twosome has kept the RiverKings together through the rough middle stretch of the season and should keep the team on an even keel in the playoffs.
- Pick a netminder and stick with him. The postseason is usually not the time to platoon goaltenders. Rutledge seems to be the hot goalie over the last month of the season. It may be wise to hand the crease over to the rookie.
Sin Bin Swami Sez
We’re split here, and I was on the fence with my decision. With Garrod going for Huntsville while Harding solidly in Mississippi’s camp, I’m the swing vote. Look for a replay of last season, except there ain’t gonna be a third game this time. Havoc in two.