If you don’t have eyes on the SPHL, maybe it’s time you started to pay attention. Their season is already half over and with the exception of the Huntsville Havoc, the other seven teams are all in contention for the playoffs. There was a point where it seemed like the Pensacola Ice Flyers and the Peoria Rivermen were going to run away with the top-two spots and let everyone else battle underneath, but thanks to things evening out just a bit– just 10 points separate 1st place Pensacola and the 7th place Mississippi RiverKings.
When you look at the storyline, the big deal for the SPHL teams was the ability to get streaky. The Columbus Cottonmouths were the first one to start this trend. The President’s Cup runners-up from last year had a bit of a hangover as they started off 0-7-0. However, the Snakes finally got their bearings about them and made a huge run, winning their next ten straight and putting them in the thick of it, currently in 5th and eight points out of 1st.
During an interview with the Fayetteville Observer’s Thomas Pope, Cottonmouths’ head coach Jerome Bechard was amazed by the parity going on in the league.
Other than Huntsville, and the games they’ve lost are probably all one goal or overtime losses. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night. Does the schedule favor anybody? I don’t think so. Whoever plays smarter and more than likely has less turnovers probably wins the game.
When you look at the team Pope covers in the Fayetteville FireAntz; they also got off to a bit of a rough start losing 10 of their first 12 games, then bouncing back with nine wins in the next 12 games after that. You could chalk the losing up to the adjustment with coach Emery Olauson, but now that the season is at the mid-point; the team has developed more chemistry– even with both of their top goalies being loaned out to the ECHL.
Despite starting off hot and still having a bit of momentum here and there, the Pensacola Ice Flyers have cooled off just slightly, having a .500 average in their last 12 games, with only two of the six losses coming in extra time. The Peoria Rivermen have been getting by with the help of their goalie Kyle Rank, but the offense has hit somewhat of a slide with only 11 goals in their last five games (2-3-0).
A final anomoly is that of the Knoxville Ice Bears, who are currently 2nd in the SPHL. Usually, you think playing at home is the best remedy for any team– unless you’re the Ice Bears, who are 5-6-1 at the Civic Coliseum and makes them the only team other than Huntsville to have a losing record at home. Contrary to that– their road record is unbelievable at 12-3-1. The big key isn’t the offense for as Knoxville has 43 goals on the road and 41 at home; but the defense hasn’t been on point at home as they have let up 50 goals against compared to 34 on the road. The Ice Bears defense has also had eight games allowing four or more goals at home in comparison to only three on the road– which happened to be three of the first four road games of the season.
It’s anyone’s race and it’s probably the least paid attention to league in mainstream minor league hockey. Even though they’ve garnered headlines with Shannon Szabados in net, Scott Darling drawing attention to the league as the first SPHL player to make the NHL, and female referees being a regular happening– it doesn’t seem to stick and it’s a shame. The SPHL is going to be wild in the last 28 games (give or take) for each team and you never know how it will all shuffle out.