#3 Pensacola Ice Flyers vs #5 Knoxville Ice Bears
In the Regular Season
Ice Flyers: 33-16-7 — 73 points (T-2nd in SPHL)
Ice Bears: 30-20-6 — 66 points (5th in SPHL)
Game 1 — 4/12/18 at Pensacola – 7:05 CT
Game 2 — 4/14/18 at Knoxville – 7:35 ET
Game 3 — 4/15/18 at Pelham, AL – 5:00 CT (if necessary)
The Season According to Pensacola
Everything seemed to be coming up Flyers early in the season. The Ice Flyers started out with a 7-0-0 burst right out of the gate. All-world goaltender Sean Bonar opened up the season with back-to-back shutouts. Bonar’s understudy, Greg Dodds, turned out to be no slouch in the pipes as be began his pro career with three straight wins. Neither goaltender would stick around the beach for long. Bonar would head to Atlanta, while Dodds would be waived in favor of ECHL veteran Kent Patterson. After Thanksgiving, a new tandem in net was formed with Gordon Defiel and former Ice Bears netminder Brian Billett. The Flyers struck gold with Defiel as he seemed to have picked up where Bonar left off.
Offensively, the Flyers were driven by a group of mostly unfamiliar faces with those from the three championship teams. Garrett Milan proved to be a solid playmaker as he led the SPHL with 51 assists, while big winger Jessyko Bernard and Charlie Adams provided the lamp lighting.
In March, the team fell on hard times as Defiel went on injured reserve on March 15th, never to play again this season. Of all the playoff teams, the Flyers go in with only a 4-4-2 record – least among the eight postseason teams. Flyers coach Jeff Bes has made it to the semifinals only once in his career. Will the change of scenery boost his postseason prospects? Stay tuned.
The Season According to Knoxville
The first season of the post-Mike Craigen era got off to a strong start. The Ice Bears, under new coach Jeff Carr, were 4-1-0 after November 5th. It would take more than a month before the Ice Bears would get four more wins, as the team struggled to find consistency through a rash of call-ups and injuries.
We saw the Ice Bears at their best in the middle of the season, with the Ice Bears going 13-3-1 during a December through February stretch. Zoltan Hetenyi was the workhorse in net, with Troy Davenport taking on an increasing responsibility. By March, Davenport was getting the majority of starts in the Ice Bears’ crease.
Offensively, the Ice Bears are once again led by Berkley Scott – this season’s scoring title winner, becoming the first player to score 70 points in a season in five years. Ice Bears fans were surprised in March with the return – after six years – of Kevin Swider. Swider, now 40 years old, removed his #12 from the rafters of the KCAC and laced up the skates for the Ice Bears’ playoff run.
A 5-1 run in early March sealed Knoxville’s 14th straight postseason appearance. The Ice Bears are the lone team to appear in every Presidents Cup playoffs.
When these Teams played in the Regular Season
Coach Bes chose the Ice Bears over the RiverKings for an obvious reason – the Ice Bears have not beaten the Ice Flyers in regulation in all of the four games between the teams. Pensacola is 3-0-1 over the four-game set with Knoxville, with Bernard and Adams providing the most scoring with four points each. For Knoxville, Scott and team captain Evan Neugold also lead their squad with four points.
Pensacola’s Keys to Winning
- Look to the role players. Guys like forwards Ken Neil and Liam Kerins need to continue producing to shift attention away from Milan and Bernard.
- Dominate defensively. The Ice Flyers may have the top defensive unit in the SPHL. Kyle Haines and Tim Boyle anchor the blue line for Pensacola, while Nathan Bruyere and Troy Vance can contribute in the offensive zone.
- Tradition matters. Despite Bes’ failings in the postseason, this is still the three-time champion Ice Flyers. If the team enters the playoffs with that kind of confidence, the Flyers should advance.
Knoxville’s Keys to Winning
- Force game three. With the deciding game in the series being played at a neutral site in Pelham, the Ice Bears have a chance to take the crowd out of a potential third game.
- They call him Mr. Clutch. Scott is the guy the Ice Bears will call on in big moments and he has to come through against a talented team like Pensacola.
- Check Milan. The Flyers can ill afford to allow Milan time and space to create plays. If the Ice Bears can limit Milan’s time with the puck, they can stifle a big part of the Flyers offensive attack.
Sin Bin Swami Sez
Color me crazy, but this series doesn’t bode well for the Ice Flyers. The Ice Bears looked primed for an upset over an Ice Flyers team which has faltered down the stretch. We’re all big on Knoxville here, but I’m the only one thinking sweep. Ice Bears with the upset sweep.