The teams of the Southern Professional Hockey League take to the ice tomorrow. The league’s 16th season kicks off as training camps open. Throughout the upcoming week, we will bring you updates as the teams prepare for opening night in ten days.
Thunderbolts Fly Under the Radar – Mike Campos
The Evansville Thunderbolts went into full-rebuild mode after a dismal 12-win season in 2018-19. Going into their fourth SPHL season, the Bolts acquired the services of Jeff Bes. Bes begins his seventh year of coaching after stints with the Mississippi Surge, Fayetteville FireAntz, and Pensacola Ice Flyers. Bes has a 175-129-32 record with postseason appearances in all of his previous six seasons.
As of today, the Bolts have four signings and one trade announced, led by the return of goaltender Braeden Ostepchuk. We expect several ECHL camp cuts in the Bolts camp when the team discloses their roster tomorrow. Coach Bes was spotted at the ECHL Wichita Thunder camp scouting players. The Sin Bin has reached out to Bes for comments in advance of training camp but has not yet received a response.
Ice Bears Come Out of Summer Hibernation – J.T. Russell
Mayhem Open Camp With a Mix of Old and New – Brad Harrison
While the Macon Mayhem officially start preseason training camp Wednesday morning within the confines of the Macon Coliseum, activity unofficially began Tuesday morning with players having the opportunity to get work in on the ice.
“Guys are anxious to get on the ice,” Mayhem head coach Leo Thomas said. “It’s always an exciting time going into training camp.”
So what does the second-year head coach of the Mayhem look for going into a camp that includes Saturday night’s exhibition game at Birmingham?
“Just guys competing, you want to see who wants to be here and don’t want guys complacent and not going as hard as they can.”
Like most teams, Macon has a mix of veterans and newcomers. One experienced player that Thomas looks forward to having out on the ice is Josh Cousineau. Coming off a season in which he scored 18 points, the Mayhem will also look to Cousineau and his 279-game experience for leadership within the locker room. He was named the Ice Flyers captain
“He’s been in this league for years now, and kind of knows what its all about,” Thomas said. “He’s won a championship. He has a presence you need in the room, on the ice, and around your young guys.”
Of course, there’ll also be a fan favorite from Macon’s President’s Cup run in camp – Stephen Pierog.
By all accounts, he seems ready to go.
“He’s probably the one guy who is the most ready to get started,” Thomas said. “The energy and leadership and work ethic that he has rubs off on his teammates.”
In goal, the Mayhem will have an eye on depth. Last year, they started the season with a formidable combo in Jordan Ruby and Gordon Defiel, only to see both called up to the ECHL within the opening weeks of the season.
With that in mind, the Mayhem will bring in a third goalie to compete alongside Kevin Entmaa and Alex Fotinos.
“I learned that last year off the bat, that’s something I knew we needed to do,” Thomas said of having three goalies in camp. “Obviously, you can’t keep all three, but maybe you can look at the third one if they don’t make the cut and know down the road if you
might need them.”
Ice Flyers Look to Answer Questions in Camp – Geoff Nichols
The Pensacola Ice Flyers have left a lot of questions unanswered so far as training camp opens tomorrow. This year’s camp looks to be a full rebuild. While the team is possibly the deepest we’ve seen in training camp on the blue line, the Ice Flyers have only announced the signings of eight forwards. The even more alarming question for many, if not all, Ice Flyers fans: where are the goalies?
The defense’s cornerstone is the team’s most recent signing, Nathan Bruyere. Bruyere is a big body with a big shot. He has improved in skating and positionally year over year. Also expected to bring leadership and knowledge to the backend is newcomer Craig Cescon. Cescon is entering his 13th season of pro hockey, all in AA leagues and European pro leagues.
As it stands now, the Ice Flyers will rely on familiar faces Garrett Milan and Ryan Marcuz upfront. Head coach Rod Aldoff and assistant coach John McLean hope that Eddie Matsushima‘s late-season production will carry over and help solidify a new offensive attack.
Between the pipes, the squad is an unknown quantity right now as the team hasn’t announced any goalie signings. This year’s free-agent camp invitee to training camp was going to be Christian Pavlas, but he caught on with a team in Slovakia. Brian Billett retired and his backup at the end of last year, Sammy Bernard, is playing in Poland. SPHL training camp rosters, especially goalie spots, change day-to-day and even session-to-session. Goalies are typically the first position to see a numbers crunch at the ECHL level, which sees good goalies trickle down the SPHL every season. Long story short, the Ice Flyers have quality guys lined up for Wednesday even if their names aren’t public yet.
Storm Drop the Puck on their Second Season – Anna Headley
The Quad City Storm will open their sophomore training camp tomorrow, with 29 players set to take the ice and compete for 19 spots on the roster. Four goalies, ten defensemen, and 13 forwards round out the list that head coach Dave Pszenyczny and assistant coach Jake Toporowski will have to narrow down over the next week before the season begins on October 19. They will once again journey to Peoria the Saturday before the season starts for a preseason matchup.
Pszenyczny was able to take more time recruiting players this off-season, as work began in April compared to beginning in June as occurred last year after hockey in the Quad Cities was resurrected from the dead in May 2018 thanks to Ryan Mosley, John Dawson, and Gwen Tombergs.
Eleven players will be bringing fresh ECHL camp experience to the Storm locker room, with the latest returners being cut from ECHL camp on October 7. With a total of 16 players returning from last season, it will be interesting to see what changes Pszenyczny makes to the line-up compared to the previous season. A good core is always a benefit, especially in a franchise’s early days.