It’s all come to this, as the first (to me) minor league hockey season comes to an end and with plenty of questions surrounding the placement of the games, especially since the lower seed team will get all three games in their barn. That said, it’s not as if home-ice has been nice to the Knoxville Ice Bears all season, but in the playoffs; a home crowd is always a nice boost.
However, the big factor is if the rest or rust will be present for the Mississippi RiverKings, as they have not played since April 4th and could have to deal with a lot of rust on their legs. However, the RiverKings can provide offense; as six players put up points in the first three games, Byron Paulazzo being the top goal-scorer with three and Matt Harrington setting up the RiverKings with four assists. Having Easton Defenseman of the Year Andrew Randazzo will be a nice boost to help protect Peter Di Salvo, who has the best GAA in the playoffs so far with 1.70 in his three games. Di Salvo has stood strong for the RiverKings and even though it was a debate between him and Adam Courchaine; Di Salvo has proved himself embedded into the crease.
For the Ice Bears, they’ll need continued success from Ben Power and Francis Drolet, both of whom are on three-game point streaks and really have stepped up for Knoxville with Ryan Salvis and Berkley Scott not getting their offensive stride in the playoffs yet. Bryan Hince has taken over the crease from Braely Torris and has put up a solid save percentage when getting the chance he has gotten in net. However, with Salvis still not hitting his stride; it could be the time for him to actually step up and regain the performances he has had in Pensacola in years past to put on a show in the Finals.
Yet, the RiverKings will be in tight– losing four of the six games against Knoxville during the season; even though the IceBears won four of them before Christmas. All of the games will be in Knoxville, which the Ice Bears are 2-0 at in the playoffs, but were only 16-11-1 during the season. That’s also the same record the RiverKings have on the road, which may or may not mean anything when all is said and done.
It could be a soild series, despite it being in one place over a neutral site or going back and forth– but these two teams were in the middle of a hungry pack for the playoffs. With rest, the RiverKings should be ready to actually out skate the Ice Bears; but it’s not a sure thing as long-layoffs can be good for the body, but shotty for the play. Puck drops in Knoxville at 7:35 PM ET with Mississippi as the “home” team– creating even more confusion.