LAFAYETTE, La. — In a week, eight teams in the Southern Professional Hockey League will vie for the ultimate prize in Single-A pro hockey, the SPHL Presidents Cup. As we approach Sunday night’s Challenge Round Selection Show, I’ll go through all of the teams advancing to the postseason, along with reasons why – and won’t – hoist the Presidents Cup at the end of the month.
Why They Will – The Marksmen have proven to be a tough team to beat on the road this season, winning ten of 26 games away from the Crown Center. Additionally, they have a league-high eight points (3-6-2) when trailing after two periods. A team who is a tough out on the road always has a chance, and the Marksmen are capable of pulling off some upsets if they can find their mid-season magic in April.
Why They Won’t – Unfortunately for the Marksmen, they have been playing hot and cold down the stretch, winning four while dropping seven during March. Despite their decent road record, the Marksmen haven’t won a game away from the Crown Center since February 9th at Knoxville.
Pensacola Ice Flyers
Why They Will – Rod Aldoff’s team has played at a high level over the second half of the season, racking up a 17-5-4 record since January 18th, including three five-game winning streaks in the process. The Ice Flyers have a potent defense along with stellar goaltending from Brian Billett. Defense wins championships.
Why They Won’t – During the same stretch, the Ice Flyers have played 12 overtime games. It’s not easy to win a championship when you can’t knock off teams in regulation. Also, the Ice Flyers have trouble hanging onto leads, dropping a league-high seven games when leading after two periods.
Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs
Why They Will – The Dawgs are good at getting leads early in games, scoring the first goal in 33 games – tied with Birmingham for the most in the league. Additionally, the Dawgs swept the red-hot Ice Flyers last weekend, giving them a much-needed confidence boost as the playoffs loom.
Why They Won’t – Consistency rewards good teams in a short postseason, and the SPHL’s playoff system is fast and furious. The Dawgs have had difficulty the entire season of finding an even keel, a trait which could temper their playoff expectations. The Dawgs have a 5-5-2 record after recording a win over the second half of the season – not a good look when you need to string wins together to advance in April.
Why They Will – The Mayhem boast plenty of depth on their forward lines and a serviceable defensive group. Macon’s playoff prospects could receive a huge boost from 2017 playoff MVP Jordan Ruby should he return from Wheeling.
Why They Won’t – The Mayhem have largely struggled over the second half of the season and have losing records against the top three teams in the league. If special teams become a factor, the Mayhem are below average on both the power play and penalty kill.
Knoxville Ice Bears
Why They Will – Despite a revolving door in net for most of the season and the departure of top players in Danny Cesarz and Marcus Ortiz, the Ice Bears have managed to maintain an even keel. Knoxville has, for the most part, avoided major slumps or extended hot streaks. In March, the Ice Bears managed to sweep the season series against the Rivermen – proving they can play with anyone. On special teams, the Ice Bears’ penalty kill has been tops in the league for the past two seasons.
Why They Won’t – While the Ice Bears have been mostly steady for large portions of the season, they are decidedly average offensively and defensively. Also, Knoxville has shown difficulty in winning away from their home barn. Finally, the lack of a workhorse in net could be a factor when running the postseason gauntlet.
Why They Will – As they proved during their championship run last season, the Havoc are an extremely difficult team to knock out. Huntsville has been playing their best hockey of the season recently, they have had success against both Birmingham and Pensacola, and they have one of the most underappreciated game planners in coach Glenn Detulleo. The Havoc are the league’s top-scoring team and have a good rookie netminder in Max Milosek.
Why They Won’t – As the reigning champions, the Havoc aren’t flying under anyone’s radar this season. Now that the playoffs are about to get underway, the bullseye is looming large on the backs of the Havoc’s sweaters. No team has repeated as champions since the Ice Flyers went back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, and it will be a tall order for the Havoc to pull off the same feat.
Why They Will – The Bulls got off to a blazing hot start and never really cooled down over the course of the season. Birmingham has arguably the league’s top netminder in Mavric Parks, the ability to roll out three solid scoring lines, and a defense which bends but rarely breaks down. Coach Jamey Hicks has quickly proven to be one of the top strategic minds in the league.
Why They Won’t – It’s never easy to suddenly find postseason success in your first shot at the playoffs and as impressive as the Bulls have played during the season, the team’s postseason resume is missing plenty of bullet points. The Bulls may quickly find out postseason play is far different from the regular season.
Why They Will – The Rivermen have put together the best regular season in league history this season. Peoria has the league’s top scorer in Ben Blasko and the GAA leader in netminder Stephen Klein. Defensively, the Rivermen have a deep and experienced group who keep most of the pressure off of their netminding. Additionally, the Rivermen have proved to be a tough team to finish off – Peoria has a 4-4-4 record when trailing after two periods this season.
Why They Won’t – As tough as the Rivermen have been to beat during the regular season, they have had equal trouble sealing the deal in the postseason. Peoria has dropped three straight Presidents Cup Finals. Additionally, the Rivermen have had trouble winning against Birmingham, Knoxville, and Fayetteville this season. Peoria has a combined 1-4-6 record against the trio of southern teams. It’s entirely possible the Rivermen may have to face at least two of these three teams during their playoff run.
Join Team Sin Bin during their wall-to-wall coverage of the 2019 Presidents Cup Playoffs, beginning with the Challenge Round Selection Show on Sunday, April 7th, at 7:30 pm ET (6:30 CT) on the SPHL Facebook page.