The opening weekend of the SPHL’s 2018-19 season ended in spectacular fashion tonight with the Quad City Storm’s stunning come-from-behind win over the Peoria Rivermen. Vladimir Nikiforov‘s penalty shot backhand got past the leg pad of Rivermen netminder Mason Pulde, capping off an electrifying night at the TaxSlayer Center.
Quad City Fans… Tonight’s game had everything we love about the SPHL.
Make no mistake y’all, Tonight was quintessential SPHL hockey. It’s not the polished product of the ECHL. The game is played at a slightly slower pace, it’s sloppy at times, and sometimes it’s downright head-scratching. It also has the kind of high drama and intensity that keeps fans on the edge of their seats. Tonight, both the Storm and Rivermen provided both drama and intensity that we usually don’t see until the postseason. After Quad City roared back from a two-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime, Storm (and former Rivermen) Goaltender Peter Di Salvo gained redemption against his former mates. During an overtime period, both rival netminders had to face penalty shots. Di Salvo held firm against Alec Hagaman, while Pulde fell to Nikiforov’s forehand-backhand deke. Tonight’s game was an instant classic, and the near-sellout crowd of 6,508 had the privilege of witnessing it.
We can only hope the remaining 15 games between Peoria and Quad City are even half as entertaining as this game was.
Don’t look now, but the Birmingham Bulls are the league’s only 2-0-0 team.
Last season, the Bulls didn’t win their second game of the year until December 8th. The second edition of the Birmingham Bulls bears zero resemblance of last year’s squad. This weekend, the Bulls took down both the defending champion Huntsville Havoc on home ice, then capped off the weekend with a spectacular come-from-behind road win against a Pensacola team which took down the Macon Mayhem the night before. The Bulls notched two quality wins this weekend, and we’re taking notice.
The wave of ECHL call-ups has already begun
Last season, the SPHL experienced a record number of call-ups to the ECHL and the 2018-19 season is proving to be more of the same. We’re one weekend into the season and we’ve already seen two Rivermen defensemen, Chris Rygus and Cody Smith, called-up to Fort Wayne and Newfoundland, respectively. Today, Evansville netminder Ian Sylves wound up reunited with former Thunderbolts coach Jeff Pyle in Atlanta. Coaches around the league need to have the Plan B and Plan C options ready because we expect the steady wave of ECHL assignments to last through the season.
Tonight’s SPHL Three Stars
★ – Dillan Fox (Roanoke) – The highly-touted former RiverKings forward had two goals, including the overtime winner, against the Knoxville Ice Bears. Honorary star goes out to Maxime Guyon, who had three assists and was a force all over the ice tonight.
★★ – Vladimir Nikiforov (Quad City) – After assisting on the overtime-forcing power play goal late in the third period, the veteran forward for Quad City came up huge in the extra frame for the storm, using his speed to force an overtime penalty shot which he eventually converted. Big plays in big moments.
★★★ – Rob Darrar (Huntsville) – The rookie from Vermont had a pair of goals in the Havoc’s big win in Evansville tonight. Darrar had the Thunderbolts defense on their heels for most of the night.
On Deck – Friday, October 26
Fayetteville at Roanoke – 7:05 ET
Knoxville at Macon – 7:30 ET
Peoria at Quad City – 7:10 CT
Evansville at Birmingham – 7:30 CT
Huntsville at Pensacola – 7:35 CT