MACON, Ga. – As another weekend of hockey is on the way, it’s time for the latest SPHL rundown, taking a look at what is both ahead and behind.
With the season gaining steam in the SPHL, the sample size of what each team has to put on the ice will get larger and larger. That’s shown to be the case coming out of the latest weekend throughout the league for at least three teams.
With each team now having played at least four games, Huntsville’s 4-3-0 record is good for eight points, one in front of both Birmingham and Pensacola. Not only are the two Alabama foes tied in the standings, but they also waged a fierce battle on Monday, the Havoc winning 4-3 to stop a three-game winning streak by the Bulls.
Macon and Knoxville have played just five and four games so far, respectively. But the fact that each team in the league in the league has won at least twice already so far leads to this fact – that the league’s parity may be the best that it has ever been.
Friday, Jan. 15
Huntsville 4, Knoxville 3
Birmingham 4, Pensacola 3 (SO)
Saturday, Jan. 16
Knoxville 6, Huntsville 2
Monday, Jan. 18
Huntsville 4, Birmingham 3
Three Stars Of The Week
⭐ Hayden Lavigne, Birmingham – Stopped 43 out of 45 shots on Friday’s overtime win against Pensacola.
⭐⭐ Colton Heffley, Knoxville – Had a combined three points over the weekend, including a goal and assist against Huntsville on Saturday.
⭐⭐⭐ Rob Darrar, Huntsville – Extended his point streak with two points in the Havoc’s games against Knoxville on Friday and Saturday as well as on Monday against Birmingham. Overall, he has eight points in his previous four games.
Around the league…
Different, But What’s Needed
It may have been unusual, Then again in these times of COVID-19, what is? As part of the league’s safety protocols, both of Friday night’s games were played in 4-on-4 hockey, giving each team one less skater on the ice than usual. The format itself is not unusual – overtime in the SPHL consists of 4-on-4 hockey for five minutes. On Friday, however, it was 60 minutes of 4-on-4 hockey. Was it unusual? Yes. In the end, the intent on the ice was the same – to put the puck in the net more than the opposition.
The on-ice action resumed with the usual 5-on-5 on each side on Saturday and Monday, with similar shots on goal compared between the two nights. On Friday night, Knoxville and Huntsville combined for 56 shots on goal. A night later with five players on each side, the total was 49.
It may have been outside the realm of what one would be used to seeing in pro hockey. But if having to at times rely on 4-on-4 hockey for a full game is what it takes to get through a full season, it’s what the league needs to employ.
Familiar Form for Ice Bears
The Knoxville Ice Bears were the league’s top-scoring team last year. They returned to that form last weekend to take the sting off of two losses in a row, ripping Huntsville 6-2 a night after losing to the Havoc 4-3. The Ice Bears flexed some offensive muscle early, scoring four times in the opening period. Connor Sanvido and Anthony McVeigh got two of those scores in the first, and they’d both go on the add a goal later in the game. It’s early in the season, but if Knoxville can continue to get that kind of offensive output, the Ice Bears will be in good shape on the offensive end.
Seasoned Scorers Leading Havoc
When you have experience on a roster, there’s an expectation to lead the way both on and off the ice. Huntsville’s getting that right now from Rob Darrar and Sy Nutkevitch. This is Darrar’s third full season with the Havoc and fifth for Nutkevitch. Listed as centers, they both are the top two scorers on the team, currently and each scored twice on two of the Havoc’s previous three games. Darrar’s also the leading scorer in the SPHL, but that total is a bit skewed for now with Huntsville having played seven games unlike Macon and Knoxville, who’ve played five and four times thus far.
Bullish Goalie Play in Birmingham
Since dropping a pair of games to start the season, the Birmingham Bulls are hitting their stride. Until Monday afternoon’s one-goal loss to Huntsville, the Bulls had taken three games in a row, two against Pensacola. The goalie play of Hayden Lavigne is a major factor. He has won two of his three starts and already has proved that he can stand in and sustain against a barrage of shots, stopping more than 40 shots in his two wins, most recently on Saturday against Pensacola.
Ice Flyers Marked By Roster Shuffles
Few teams illustrate the double-edged sword of being noticed by the ECHL as the Pensacola Ice Flyers. Already this year, Pensacola has had two goalies loaned to the next level, Jake Kupsky and most recently, Taran Kozun. As it stands now, the goalie rotation in Pensacola sits with Chase Perry and the recently acquired Jacob Caffrey. Caffrey’s a familiar face to SPHL fans. He appeared in one game for Pensacola 2017-18 in 30 contests a year later for Roanoke, going 13-10 with a 2.97 GAA.
Goalie stability is hardly the Ice Flyers’ only worry right now. They’re also trying to snap a three-game losing streak. But if there is solace down by the coast, it is this: that Pensacola fell 4-3 in overtime last Friday despite leading scorers Garret Milan and Eddie Matsushima as well as two-way defenseman Nick Neville being out of the lineup.
Holding Pattern in Macon
The waiting continues for the Macon Mayhem
Due to SPHL safety protocols, Macon has now had its past four games postponed, and the Mayhem are scheduled to play just three times between now and then end of the month, the first contest being on Friday at Birmingham. The postponements also rob Macon of three home games in the season’s first month, although those games will be eventually rescheduled.
Macon plays at home again on Feb. 5 and 6 and will be on the road again until Feb. 20. Needless to say, home games in the coming weeks will be few and far between for the Mayhem.
Stat of the Week
100 – The number of professional wins for Knoxville goalie Peter Di Salvo, who reached the plateau for Knoxville in the Ice Bears win on Saturday.
“We fought hard and played hard. That’s starting to be our characteristic. We show up every night and play hard.” – Birmingham head coach Craig Simchuk.
Friday, Jan. 22
Pensacola at Knoxville, 7:35 EST
Macon at Birmingham, 7:30 p.m. CST Listen LIVE on The Sin Bin app
Saturday, Jan 23
Pensacola at Knoxville, 7:35 EST
Huntsville at Birmingham, 8 pm CST Listen LIVE on The Sin Bin app