MACON, Ga. – The territory is hardly foreign for both Huntsville and Knoxville. Having advanced past the Challenge Round of the President’s Cup playoffs, both the Havoc and Ice Bears find themselves in the semifinal round for the second year in a row. With two wins, the victor of the best-of-three series will play for the President’s Cup title against either Birmingham or Roanoke.
While the Havoc, fresh off a gritty first-round win against Pensacola will look to continue their title defense, Knoxville will look to rain on that parade as the Ice Bears roll in basking in the wake of a sweep of Macon.
Final Regular Season Records:
Huntsville Havoc: 36-17-3, 3rd in SPHL
Knoxville Ice Bears: 29-22-5, 4th in SPHL
How They Got Here:
Challenge Round Results
Huntsville: Beat Pensacola 3-1, lost to Pensacola 3-2 (OT) and beat Pensacola 4-3
Knoxville: Beat Macon 3-1, Beat Macon 3-2
Series Schedule: (Home team in BOLD CAPS and all times local):
Game 1 – Thursday, April 18 – Knoxville at Huntsville 7 pm CT
Game 2 – Saturday, April 20 – Huntsville at Knoxville 7:35 pm ET
*Game 3 – Monday, April 22 – Knoxville at Huntsville 8 pm CT
*=> If necessary
By the Numbers:
Season Series Recap:
If last weekend taught anything about Knoxville, it’s that the Ice Bears don’t put much stock on the results of the regular season when it’s playoff time. Despite Macon having a 5-1-1 mark against Knoxville, the Ice Bears managed to sweep the playoff series.
Similar results will be sought by the gang from the East Tennessee hills as the Ice Bears claimed just a pair of wins against Huntsville this year by scores of 4-1 and 5-3. Huntsville claimed wins in the other four contests, posting a pair of shutouts by each of their regular goalies – Max Milosek and Mike DeLaVergne.
Knoxville Ice Bears Keys to Success:
It’s pretty simple for Knoxville. Stay with what pushed them to a sweep of Macon last weekend. Hayden Stewart held Macon’s potent scorers at bay, limiting them to three goals over a span of two games. If the Ice Bears can get play on that level, they have a good chance to take the series. Another thing that’ll aid Knoxville’s hopes? If Mitchell Mueller’s hot play keeps up. If there were any doubts about what team won the big trade involving Mueller, Knoxville asserted itself as the winner given how the risk has paid off when it matters most – in the postseason. Mueller had three points alone in Saturday’s series-clinching win. Bottom line – Knoxville needs to not reinvent the wheel and lean on what’s buttered its bread as of late.
Huntsville Havoc Keys to Success:
One key will be to lean on experience. A very strong nucleus of last year’s championship team exists in Rocket City. A lot of guys in the locker room know full well what it takes to weather the drive toward a championship and what to expect, an experience that paid off in the razor-thin first-round win against a Pensacola team that was a darkhorse pick in some circles to make a run at a title.
Speaking of staying on an even keel, a conversation about Huntsville cannot start without mentioning the recent play of Milosek who was between the pipes for all three opening-round contests. Simply put, he put his team in place to win against Pensacola by making big saves at big times. He’ll look to keep that up in the semifinal round.
And then there’s the offensive end of the ice. Kyle Sharkey will need to continue to find ways to move the puck and generate chances for his teammates, especially Ryan Salkeld and Sy Nutkevich in the Knoxville zone. He did a pretty good job, needless to say against Pensacola, logging four points in the series – including three assists within a single game.
One key area to watch will be on the power play. Huntsville’s Rob Darrar led the SPHL in the regular season in power play goals with 11, part of an overall power play percentage for the Havoc at 21.5, second-best in the SPHL. The flip side is that Knoxville had the league’s top-rated penalty kill at 92 percent.
In a series where the little things could become big things, special teams play could loom large.