MACON, Ga. – Friday night was not about postseason position for Macon and Knoxville. The top two teams in the SPHL’s position for the President’s Cup Playoffs is set in stone with both having home ice in the first round.
But neither team played like one intent on hitting cruise control going into the postseason, which begins next week.
In a tightly contested game, Macon (31-6-4, 66 points) inched away in the third period with a pair of goals as the Mayhem won 4-1. The Mayhem will host the lower seed between Pensacola and Huntsville in the SPHL President’s Cup Semifinals on Saturday as well as Sunday if needed with Knoxville (24-14-4, 52 points) hosting the higher seed of Pensacola and Huntsville on Wednesday.
“They’re a good group, when they get dialed in, they’re pretty dialed in. When they play the right way, we’re pretty good,” Mayhem head coach Kevin Kerr said. ” But after (this weekend), you have to throw the records out the window, it doesn’t matter, Everyone starts 0-0.”
The intensity extended beyond the ice. With the state of Georgia’s COVID-19 restrictions being eased, attendance limitations were lifted in Macon earlier in the week. Gone were capacity limits as well as fans being unable to sit closer together. As a result, Friday’s crowd was both the largest and most spirited of the year, making for a playoff-like atmosphere.
It was also a matchup of arguably two of the league’s top goalies, Knoxville’s Austyn Roudebush and Macon’s Jake Theut. It was Theut’s first appearance since April 16 when he was injured against Pensacola. He turned in a strong performance, stopping 24 out of 25 shots. Kerr said following Friday’s game that Ryan Ruck will start on Saturday at Huntsville, keeping both goalies fresh prior to the postseason.
“It was really important,” Kerr said of getting Theut time in the net before the playoffs. “He’s one of our top goalies and (Ryan Ruck) is right behind him, we need both of our goalies firing going into the playoffs. It was good to see him dialed in.”
Knoxville’s Roudebush was equally strong on Friday.
After Macon took an early 1-0 lead 3:17 when Mason Baptista knocked in a rebound on the left side, Roudebush kept the Ice Bears in it, denying a pair of great scoring chances later in the first by Baptista and Brian Bowen. Roudebush ended up stopping 26 out of 29 shots.
Macon built on its 1-0 lead just shy of the game’s midway point. At 9:48 in, Jimmy Soper took advantage of a loose puck to the right of the Knoxville net, extending the advantage to 2-0.
The Ice Bears fought back, cutting the lead in half 13:22 into the third by way of Stepan Timofeyev getting Knoxville on the board. Knoxville had an even bigger chance to tie it in the third when holding and delay of game penalties against Logan Coomes and Nate Kallen seven seconds apart set up a 5-on-3 advantage for the Ice Bears.
It ended up being what the Mayhem needed to put the game away.
Macon not only killed off the two-man disadvantage but as the penalty kill ended, Coomes came up with a loose puck in the neutral zone and broke free to score on a breakaway for a 3-1 Macon lead before Bowen added an empty-net goal in the closing seconds.
“It was a great penalty kill, he touched it in and it was a footrace, he has the skill to do that,” Kerr said. “It was basically the game-winner, that was the one that kind of put dagger in their back.”
Macon closes the regular season out on Saturday night in Huntsville.
Also in the SPHL…
Huntsville rallied from a 1-0 deficit, scoring four times in the second period to win 5-1 and pull within a point of third-place Pensacola.
Tyler Piacentini scored twice for Huntsville with other goals being scored by Justin MacDonald, Tommy Besinger, and Sy Nutkevitch.