MACON, Ga. – If you’ve got a love for hockey, this Valentine’s weekend is sweeter than a box of chocolates in the SPHL.
And throughout the league, the parity continues to make for exciting hockey. Two teams are tied for first place and two others are tied for third. There’s no clear favorite just over a month into the season, making the action on the ice must-see hockey.
As another cluster of games is coming, here’s a look around the league in the SPHL Rundown.
Thursday, Feb. 4
Knoxville 4, Birmingham 3
Pensacola 3, Huntsville 2
Friday, Feb. 5
Macon 7, Knoxville 2
Huntsville 7, Birmingham 0
Saturday, Feb. 6
Macon 2, Birmingham 1 (OT)
Huntsville 2, Pensacola 1
Three Stars Of The Week
⭐ Max Milosek, Huntsville. The Havoc goalie went 2-0, posting his first shutout of the season in a win against Birmingham on Friday as Huntsville moved into a tie for first place. A night after stopping 25 shots in a 7-0 win against Birmingham on Friday, he was rock solid again, stopping all but one of 45 shots in an overtime win against Pensacola on Saturday.
⭐⭐ Lincoln Griffin, Knoxville. His two goals in two games included the game-winner in Thursday’s thrilling comeback win against Birmingham.
⭐⭐⭐ Casey Johnson, Macon. The defenseman not only had three points in Friday’s 7-2 win against Knoxville. He also posted a plus-five plus-minus rating to lead all players.
Around The League
Bulls Get Right Back Up
If there’s any doubt about the Birmingham Bulls’ ability to flush one game away and move on, a quick look at last weekend should remove any questions. After a 7-0 loss on Friday that went about as poorly as a game could go and a road trip to Macon waiting the next day, it would appear that on paper the Bulls would have a long night in store. That ended up not being the case. Birmingham gave Macon all that it could handle, earning a point before the Mayhem won in overtime. You can learn much about a team, even in defeat. We learned last weekend that when backed into a corner, the Bulls are a scrappy bunch that won’t fade into the night easily.
Game Over? Not according to the Ice Bears
A game is never over until the final whistle. Just ask the Knoxville Ice Bears. With less than five minutes to play on Thursday, Birmingham led Knoxville 3-2. The Ice Bears, however, were not done. Two goals in the final 3:20, including the game-winner from Lincoln Griffin by way of Austin Plevy, gave Knoxville a win that its fans will likely talk about for a long time.
As dramatic as last Thursday was, the next night was a polar opposite, a true case of Jekyll and Hyde. Against Macon, Knoxville trailed 3-2 5:57 into the third before the wheels came off in more ways than one to the tune of four Macon goals within a six-minute stretch and spilling over into a post-game melee. One of the end results was goalie Joseph Murdaca becoming the second SPHL goalie this year to receive a game suspension, being docked for four games. Murdaca was released by the team earlier in the week prior to the suspensions being announced.
Some scoring power has arrived in Knoxville, however. This week, the team announced the signing of Mathieu Roy. He arrives with pro hockey experience that is hard to match, having played in 690 games in Europe, the AHL, and ECHL that includes 275 goals, 314 assists, and being a Kelly Cup champion as a member of the Florida Everblades.
Two-way hockey helping drive Havoc
There are multiple reasons for the Huntsville Havoc being tied for the SPHL lead. One of them is how active the Havoc is with its defensemen on the offensive end. Both Nolan Kaiser and Kyle Rhodes led the league in points among defensemen with ten and eight points, respectively. Kaiser has been on a tear as of late as he is on a six-game point streak.
Test For Macon’s defensive depth
Macon has a three-game set of road games coming up, two being at Pensacola. During that time, look for the Mayhem’s depth on the back end to be tested. In the past week, Macon has lost a pair of defensemen to ECHL call ups, Derek Topatigh to Wheeling and Darren Brady to Rapid City. Thankfully for Macon, Paul Meyer returned last week from his ECHL loan to South Carolina.
Likely defensive showdown looming for Ice Flyers against Macon
Speaking of playing the Ice Flyers, Thursday’s game will be the first between the teams since Jan. 30, when Pensacola topped Macon in an eight-round shootout.
Even with Macon having some defensemen loaned to the next level, this weekend’s games between the Mayhem and Ice Flyers could be a defensive bonanza. Both teams have allowed the fewest goals in the league, and goalie play is a significant reason why. Jake Theut’s 1.62 GAA leads the league. One spot behind him? The Ice Flyers Chase Perry.
“Obviously it’s different. I think it’s more of just creating your own energy. It’s definitely been a bit of a change, but you have to rely on your team and bench to create your own energy.”
– Austin Plevy, Knoxville forward on Knoxville Ice Bears Facebook page.
Stat Of The Week
Zero – The number of regulation losses by Pensacola this season on its home ice. The Ice Flyers have lost once at home in overtime and once in a shootout.
Thursday, Feb. 11
Macon at Birmingham, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 12
Huntsville at Knoxville, 7:35 p.m. EST
Macon at Pensacola, 7:35 p.m. CST
Saturday, Feb. 13
Birmingham at Knoxville, 7:35 p.m. EST
Pensacola at Huntsville, 7 p.m. CST
Sunday, Feb. 14
Macon at Pensacola, 4:05 p.m. CST
Tuesday, Feb. 16
Knoxville at Huntsville, 7 p.m. CST