MACON, Ga – It’s taken three months of hockey, but there’s finally some separation within the SPHL standings with about a month left in the regular season.
In first place with 42 points is Macon. Just one point back is Knoxville. Those two have built themselves a gap between two other teams within a point of each other – Pensacola and Huntsville with 28 and 27 points in the standings, respectively. In fifth is Birmingham, five points shy of Huntsville.
Assuming neither Macon nor Knoxville hits a dramatic slump (and you never say never in hockey), the race for the President’s Cup looks to be a two-way fight. For Pensacola and Huntsville, it’s about avoiding a fourth-place finish and matching the first-place team in the first round of the playoffs…and not relaxing too much, and giving Birmingham an opening to claw back into things a bit more.
Macon and Knoxville play four more times this season, three times in Knoxville. The first of those matchups up on good old rocky top is this Friday. Overall, the Mayhem have eight home games to go as opposed to the five of the Ice Bears. Knoxville has a pair of three-game road trips to go while Macon plays no more than two road contests in a row the rest of the way. Macon has three more games in hand than the Ice Bears.
Thursday, Mar. 25
Knoxville 2, Birmingham 0
Friday, Mar. 26
Knoxville 4, Birmingham 2
Macon 3, Pensacola 2
Saturday, Mar. 27
Huntsville 4, Birmingham 2
Macon 4, Pensacola 2
Sunday, Mar. 28
Knoxville 3, Huntsville 0
Three Stars of the Week
⭐ Jason Tackett, Macon – In a pair of wins against Pensacola, he put up a plus-three plus-minus, scoring twice, including a game-winner as well as having two assists. The set of games were hardly a fluke for Tackett, who is one of the more opportune mid-year signings in the SPHL. Since joining the team on March 11, Tackett has seven goals in ten games.
⭐⭐ Johnny Curran, Knoxville – In three games, he put up three goals, one being a game-winner.
⭐⭐⭐ Jake Wahlin, Pensacola – He had a pair of goals against Macon. More impressive, he was active in the attack zone to the tune of seven shots of goal.
Around the league…
Into the record books
Knoxville goalie Peter Di Salvo is in the record books, and he entered that elite company in style. Sunday’s 3-0 Ice Bears win marked career win number 104 for the Knoxville netminder, a run sheet of wins that have come with a total of seven different SPHL teams. Sunday’s win came on the heels of a pair of wins against Birmingham giving up two goals each time out. Di Salvo had not started a game in over a month, with Austyn Roudebush having gotten hot in goal for the Ice Bears. But with Roudebush on loan in the ECHL, Di Salvo again had a chance to step up, and he took full advantage.
With that win, Peter Di Salvo is now your ALL-TIME LEADER in SPHL Wins with #104!
Congrats on an unbelievable accomplishment, Mad Dog. We’re thrilled to have you apart of Ice Bears Nation. pic.twitter.com/HhYrIr8Hv8
— Knoxville Ice Bears (@icebears) March 29, 2021
Different goalie? No problem for league leaders
Going into last weekend, the league’s top two teams were saddled with questions of how they’d move ahead with their respective starting goalies having been called up to the ECHL. It turned out they did so just fine. While Di Salvo picked up a trio of wins, one being a shutout, similar results occurred in Macon by way of Ryan Ruck. Playing in place of Jake Theut, he picked up a pair of road wins against Pensacola, giving up two goals in each contest. Since Feb. 25, Ruck has played in seven contests, winning five times and yielding two goals or fewer on four occasions.
With a regulation win combined with a Birmingham regulation loss on Thursday, the Mayhem can clinch a postseason berth.
Could Huntsville be Macon’s nemesis?
Aside from a shutout loss in Knoxville, there was no denying Macon in the month of March…except for a pair of games against Huntsville. In those two contests, Mar. 20 and Mar. 21 in Macon, the Havoc got the best of the Mayhem, including a one-sided 4-1 win on March 20.
Were those two games an aberration or something more? We’ll find that out really soon. Macon hosts Huntsville on Thursday, playing at the Havoc on Mar. 10. The fact of it is that the Havoc heads to the Macon Coliseum on Thursday with recent confidence that they can beat Macon. How big of an asset that confidence is will be proven on Thursday evening.
Cowabunga! Highlights from Ninja Turtle Night! pic.twitter.com/nkIydCbtRa
— Huntsville Havoc (@HuntsvilleHavoc) March 28, 2021
Ice Flyers Shooting Their Shot
The Pensacola Ice Flyers may be third in the current SPHL standings, but they’re not in that position due to a lack of trying. On average, the Ice Flyers currently average 33.59 shots per game, the most of any team in the SPHL. They’ve also done a masterful job of not being overrun in their own attack zone, giving up an average of 27.24 shots per game, fewest in the league.
Pensacola dropped a pair of games to first-place Macon last weekend. A common thread? The first period. The Ice Flyers did what teams can ill afford to do against a team such as Macon – fall behind early. The Mayhem scored the game’s first goal each time, a hill that Pensacola could not climb. If there’s a focal point for Pensacola this weekend, it’s to win the first period.
Bulls a constant threat with Nelson on the ice
Birmingham may be last in the SPHL standings, but the Bulls are hardly a pushover. Logan Nelson is a big reason why as his 28 points ties him for the SPHL lead. The Bulls are in the midst of a seven-game road trip, not playing at home until Mar. 8 against Huntsville.
You don’t want to call a set of games a make or break with a month to go in a season, but the case could be made in the case of the Bulls. Birmingham has lost six in a row. A win in either its next two games against Pensacola or on Saturday against Macon, however, could inject much-needed life as Birmingham looks to inch closer to fourth place in the standings.
Stat of the week
Zero – The number of losses by Knoxville against Birmingham. The Ice Bears are the only team in the league with an unbeaten record against another league opponent.
🚨 #TSBGameweek 🚨 The SPHL returns to the Sin Bin app this week where we've got 5️⃣ straight days of action! Download the app now on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store so you don't miss the packed week!
⠀#ECHL #SPHL #TSB #hockey pic.twitter.com/kSgHIHq6FF
— Sin Bin News (@SinBinNews) March 30, 2021
Thursday, April 1
Huntsville at Macon, 7:30 pm EDT
Birmingham at Pensacola, 7:05 pm CDT
Friday, April 2
Macon at Knoxville, 7:35 pm EDT
Birmingham at Pensacola, 7:35 pm CDT
Saturday, April 3
Birmingham at Macon, 6:30 pm EDT
Huntsville at Knoxville, 7:35 pm EDT
Monday, April 5
Knoxville at Huntsville, 7:00 pm CDT