There are eight weekends remaining in the regular season, and the teams of the Southern Professional Hockey League are jockeying for postseason position. Eight of the team’s nine teams will see playoff action, so the remaining games which gain the most interest involve teams competing for the final playoff seeds. There is a three-team race involving the Macon Mayhem, Columbus Cottonmouths, and Louisiana IceGators for the 7th and 8th playoff seeds. The Snakes’ six-point weekend relegated the Mayhem to being the odd-man out, but Columbus has only one game this week – giving Macon an opportunity to jump back into 8th.
The team finishing 8th will likely meet the Peoria Rivermen in the opening round of the playoffs, which may not be a bad thing. First, the Rivs have underwhelmed in the postseason – suffering first-round defeats the last two seasons. Second, Peoria will have to play their first-round games away from Carver Arena (Bloomington, perhaps?) because of a scheduling conflict. A third consecutive first round playoff exit could spell the end of the Trudel era in Peoria.
Current Playoff Pairings (sorted by percentages)
- #1 Peoria Rivermen vs #8 Columbus Cottonmouths
- #2 Mississippi RiverKings vs. #7 Louisiana IceGators
- #3 Pensacola Ice Flyers vs. #6 Knoxville Ice Bears
- #4 Fayetteville FireAntz vs. #5 Huntsville Havoc
League Suspends Barr for Season
Louisiana IceGators enforcer Tyler Barr returned to action after serving a five-game suspension for a cross-check during the January 30th game at Huntsville. Barr’s return lasted exactly 30 minutes and 13 seconds. After running Peoria’s Alec Hagaman at the blue line, Barr inexplicably lifted his stick on a defenseless Hagaman and struck him in the face with the blade of his stick. Referee Jonathon Sitarski correctly issued Barr a major for spearing, which carries an automatic game misconduct.
Tuesday, the SPHL’s Doug Price handed down a season suspension on Barr – the forward’s fourth of the season. In the announcement, Price justified the season ban due to “A continued lack of respect and complete disregard for the safety of his opponents.”
Ice Bears Stay Hot, Extend Win Streak to Five
The Knoxville Ice Bears are now the SPHL’s hottest team, riding the goaltending of veteran Bryan Hince and rookie Brian Billett to an undefeated week. Hince and Billett allowed one goal as they defeated Macon and swept Fayetteville in a home-and-home series. The Ice Bears have now won 10 of their last 13 games and are continuing to advance in the standings.
Previewing the SPHL League Awards
We’re at the top of the homestretch and the end of the regular season is in sight. We kick off the fourth quarter of the SPHL season with a preview of the league awards and our predictions for the less-than-important league hardware.
Coffey Cup (SPHL Best Record) – Peoria Rivermen. Only two of their 17 remaining games are against Mississippi, the only team with a prayer of catching them. This is such a lock, Vegas quit taking odds.
Coach of the Year – Mike Craigen, Knoxville Ice Bears. I literally flipped a coin to choose between Craigen and Havoc coach Glenn Detulleo. Both coaches did some fantastic work in rebuilding their teams. Fun fact: Nobody has ever won this award twice.
Goalie of the Year – Sean Bonar, Fayetteville FireAntz. Bonar has had an amazing year, and is currently playing well for the ECHL Fort Wayne Komets. His SPHL numbers (9-3-0, 1.89 GAA, .936 SV%) justify the award, but could be denied the hardware if he stays for the remainder of the season due to minutes played. We at TSB don’t care about silly league rules.
Rookie of the Year – John Lidgett, Huntsville Havoc – Lidgett has impressed all season, and has been instrumental in the Havoc’s turnaround. Peoria’s Toomey, Pensacola’s Kreig, and Louisiana’s Barone also deserve mention.
Defenseman of the Year – Brandon Greenside, Peoria Rivermen. Somewhere in the noise from the over-praise of Peoria’s goaltending is Greenside. The undersized blueliner has played huge this season, and is the anchor of the Rivermen’s defense – the true reason Peoria has played so well this season.
Kevin Swider Award (top scorer) – Corey Banfield, Pensacola Ice Flyers. Banfield finished second in scoring last season to teammate Adam Pawlick. Currently at 41 points (24G/17A), Banfield is forecast to finish at 65 points – four points over Peoria’s Chris Wilson.
League MVP – Adam Stuart, Peoria Rivermen. Stuart, acquired by Peoria in a trade with Louisana, has elevated his game tremendously. He has become the league’s premier power forward.
We’re done the SPHL’s official awards, we have a few or our own…
Scrapper of the Year – Jeremy Beirnes, Huntsville Havoc. This award goes to the player with the most fighting majors. Beirnes is currently in the lead, with Pensacola’s David Segal close behind.
Comeback Player of the Year – Chris Wilson, Peoria Rivermen. During his time with the Louisiana IceGators, Wilson’s numbers never matched his scoring from his days with the Pensacola Ice Flyers. After a start where he notched only four points in his first eight games, Wilson was traded to Peoria where he was reunited with former IceGator Adam Stuart. Once in Peoria, the stocky, 5’9″ sniper rediscovered his scoring touch and is now having his best season since his Ice Flyer days.
Best Social Media Empire – Huntsville Havoc (@HavocHockey). The Havoc’s social media people seem to always have their A-game on. Active on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and especially Twitter. Huntsville does real-time play-by-play on a separate Twitter account (@HavocGameday) and twin mascots Chaos and Rukus get in on the action. It’s no coincidence Huntsville leads the SPHL in attendance.
This Week’s Three Stars
★ – Jake Hauswirth, Louisiana IceGators – Hauswirth set the single-game mark for assists this season with five helpers on Friday against Peoria – the league’s top defensive team. Hauswirth finished the weekend with nine assists, a feat unmatched in the league this season.
★★ – Brandon Jaeger, Columbus Cottonmouths – Jaeger’s solid play ended the Snakes eight-game losing skid, and his 3-0-0 week got the Cottonmouths out of the league’s basement. Jaeger stopped 100 shots, allowing only four goals against solid teams like Huntsville, Pensacola, and Mississippi.
★★★ – Garrick Perry, Huntsville Havoc – Perry was signed on a three-gamer by the Havoc after being released by the ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones, and had a bang-up week. Perry had a pair of assists in his first game in Columbus, and a natural hat trick – scoring all three goals in Huntsville’s 3-2 win against the RiverKings… then released after his three-game tryout.
Team Sin Bin’s Power Poll
- Peoria Rivermen (28-8-3, LW: 1) – Dropping two of three at home to Louisiana isn’t enough to demote the Rivs… yet.
- Mississippi RiverKings (21-11-6, LW: 3) – Great win in Pensacola, then lose out the rest of the weekend.
- Pensacola Ice Flyers (20-12-3, LW: 4) – Only one point in a weekend at the Hangar.
- Knoxville Ice Bears (19-18-3, LW: 7) – Once in the celler, the Ice Bears can be tied for third with a win Thursday against Pensacola.
- Fayetteville FireAntz (19-13-3, LW: 2) – The Antz have the longest current losing streak at three games (0-2-1).
- Huntsville Havoc (20-17-2, LW: 5) – Between Knoxville’s surging and the FireAntz’ falling, the Havoc are falling under the radar.
- Louisiana IceGators (16-18-3, LW: 6) – Picked up a pair of signature wins in Peoria.
- Columbus Cottonmouths (14-20-6, LW: 9) – After dropping eight straight, three wins in a row.
- Macon Mayhem (14-21-4, LW: 8) – Goaltender Garrett Bartus is off to Cincinnati, which means rough times ahead for the Mayhem.
This Week’s Games
Thursday, Feb. 18
Pensacola vs Knoxville
Friday, Feb. 19
Columbus vs Fayetteville
Huntsville vs Louisiana
Pensacola vs Macon
Saturday, Feb. 20
Huntsville vs Louisiana
Pensacola vs Macon
Sunday, Feb. 21
Mississippi vs Louisiana
Macon vs Fayetteville