2015 SPHL Playoffs: Round 1 Primer

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The playoffs are upon us in the SPHL and it could be a helluva first round. With only six teams in the playoffs, however, it’ll be easy coasting for one team, while the other two winners duke it out. The highest seeded team left after the best-of-three first round will automatically go to the President’s Cup Finals, so there’s a lot at stake for this first round outside of just taking two of three.

#1 Peoria Rivermen vs. #6 Louisiana Ice Gators (Peoria won season series 4-1-1-0)

While the regular season series may look off, the Rivermen needed overtime for three of their four wins, all low scoring affairs. The Rivermen outscored the Gators 21-18 in those six match-ups, but will have to start on the road due to the travel issues around the trip from Louisiana to Peoria. Therefore, the Rivermen will have back-to-back home games rather than going back and forth. With Josh Harris hitting his stride late and Kyle Rank having another decent year, the Rivemen finished strong with four wins in their last six games.

The Ice Gators, however, are going to be a thorn in the side of the Rivermen, as they play a tight-checking game with many one-goal decisions under their belt. Even though they have three 20-goal scorers on their team (Adam Stuart, Jake Hauswirth, and Bret Peppler), the biggest question is going to be whether or not they can give enough support to Marco De Filippo to fend off the hungry Rivermen squad.

#2 Columbus Cottonmouths vs. #5 Knoxville Ice Bears (Columbus won season series 6-3-0-1)

Though it looked as if the Cottonmouths were dead in the water to start the season, the team rallied around SPHL leading goal scorer Matt Gingera, Bryce Williamson, and got stellar play from both Andrew Loewen and Shannon Szabados in net to push them to the second-seed overall. Though the tandem of Loewen and Szabados platooned, it’ll be interesting to see if they will ride Szabados’ hot streak to end the season into the first round.

Knoxville has had an up and down season, finally regressing to the mean at the end. They dropped a two-game series to the Cottonmouths on the 20th and 21st and had troubles with non-playoff teams on top of contenders. For the Ice Bears to be successful, Ryan Salvis and Eric Satim will need some secondary scoring help, while Bryan Hince will have a short-leash in net if they start him over Braley Torris to start the series.

#3 Pensacola Ice Flyers vs. #4 Mississippi River Kings (Pensacola won season series 5-4-1-0)

If there were a more even match-up in the playoffs, I would like to see it. Both teams took five games (though Mississippi needed OT to get one), they both scored 25 goals against each other, and both are looking to save some kind of face for a very mediorce season. Pensacola is also looking for their third-straight SPHL crown, but have had a lot of obstacles on and off the ice make the team have a bit of a meltdown towards the stretch run. With the top-two leading scorers in the league (Adam Pawlick and Corey Banfield) and the top goalie in the SPHL (Max Strang); on paper– this should be the Ice Flyers series to dominate.

With all that said, the tandem of Adam Courchaine and Peter Di Salvo have quickly and quietly gotten the job done for the River Kings and it will be interesting to see who head coach Derek Landmesser goes with in the first game of the series. Matt Whitehead and Leo Thomas will be the charge on offense; but they will need to get better with the extra-man if they want to succeed– something they didn’t do in the regular season, as they had the second-worst power play percentage with only 31 goals in 217 chances (14.29%).

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It all starts Wednesday with Peoria/Louisiana and Pensacola/Mississippi kicking it off with the first round wrapping in up by Saturday at the latest for these series and then onto the next round. Fast and furious for these six squads, who should put on a great show for everyone around.

Farm Report Podcast: 03.15.15

This edition of the Farm Report has Scotty talking about some of the moves made at the ECHL trade deadline, the moves made by some AHL franchises, and what the move to California could really mean for the AHL and the NHL parent teams. Rod Aldoff is none too pleased with his two-time SPHL champion Ice Flyers, while the Quad City Mallards are flying together despite call-ups and injuries. All that, plus some news and notes, as well as We Hardly Knew Ye.

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Farm Report Podcast: 02.01.15

As expected, this week’s episode is all about what has happened during the AHL and ECHL Board of Governors meetings and the press conferences to announce all the changes. Scotty will talk about the changes and the fallout of the cities that are effected both positively and negatively. The AHL also had an All-Star Classic in Utica, which couldn’t have gone off better; while the Pensacola Ice Flyers wish their arena had a better schedule to allow them to practice. All that, plus some other news and notes and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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The Weekend That Was: January 23rd-25th

AHL

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-Despite the William Nylander Show coming to town, the Hamilton Bulldogs were able to take both games in a home-and-home against their rivals the Toronto Marlies. Captain Gabriel Dumont was the offensive force with three goals and an assist between the two games, while Mike Condon stopped 52 of 55 shots heading into the All-Star break. The Bulldogs are winners of four straight and have clawed their way back to the middle of the pack of the North Division. As an aside, Nylander had no points and was a minus-1 on his first two games in the AHL.

-With Michael Chaput and Kerby Rychel combining for all four goals on the weekend (two a piece), the Springfield Falcons have slipped down a bit, losing their last four games and only winning four in their last 10 games. The cause of this has resulted in the Falcons slipping out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Even with the injury issues their parent affiliation in Columbus has had– the Falcons scorers remain in tact, with defenseman Austin Madaisky leading the way. Though they are getting solid goaltending from Anton Forsberg; the lack of output from the offense is a bit alarming and could keep them regressing to the middle in the second half of the season.

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ECHL

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-Break up the Indy Fuel!! With three more wins on the weekend, including a 4-1 win over the Western Conference leading Allen Americans, the expansion Fuel have finally found their footing. Mac Carruth and Shane Owen only let up three goals in all three games, Carruth getting two of the three wins on the weekend. Kyle Stroh led the way with four goals (including a hat trick Saturday and game winner Sunday) and an assist, while Garett Bembridge had three goals and an assist on a big weekend for the Fuel. Scott Hillman has been known to work magic with with points in their last eight games; it seems the Fuel have finally bought into what Hillman is selling.

-Not to be outdone in the North Division, the Kalamazoo Wings are making a mid-season push for the playoffs, with points in their last nine games and getting five of six points on the weekend. The Wings also defeated the Americans, but also took it to the Cincinnati Cyclones on Saturday. Scott Munroe stopped 38 of 39 shots in Friday’s shootout lose against Toledo, while the rest of the weekend belonged to Matt Caria‘s three goals on the weekend, as Dane Fox, Gergo Nagy, and Sascha Guimond adding three assists a piece. The weekend was capped off by Zach McCullough scoring the overtime winner against the Americans– which was his first professional goal in his career.

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SPHL

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-While he bounced around the ECHL the past couple years, Jake Hauswirth seems to have found his footing with the Louisiana Ice Gators, especially this weekend with two goals and two assists in two wins for the Ice Gators. Hauswirth has had points in 11 of the 14 games he’s played in and has seven points in his last four games. The Ice Gators have won their last three games and have moved up to the third spot in a tight, tight SPHL playoff race.

-The race is so tight that the Pensacola Ice Flyers, thanks to four straight losses, have moved from first place to fifth over the weekend thanks to that skid. With only seven goals in those four games, the Flyers seemed to have lost their touch and actually have to put forth an effort these days rather than taking the rest of the league for granted. Corey Banfield (1g, 4a) and Nick McParland (2g, 1a) have been doing their part, but the scoring by committee could just be dealing with a power outage. With the Ice Flyers eyes set on a third-straight title, they need to figure out this sooner rather than later.

The Playoff Race You’re Not Paying Attention To

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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.

Farm Report Podcast 01.04.15

The first Farm Report of the new year will provide the story of how Sebastian Collberg used his time in the ECHL to hone his game and to shake off the rust for injury. Also, what Reverend Michael Bowyer is provide to the Hamilton Bulldogs, how Matt Dumba is dealing with getting passed over for NHL call-ups, how Prescott Valley can get hockey back, and the shuffle in net for the FireAntz. Also, monthly awards, weekly awards, coaching changes, Max Strang’s adventurous week, Dany Heatley’s full-time AHL debut, and how could we forget We Hardly Knew Ye??

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The Weekend That Was: December 26th-28th

AHL

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-It was a clean sheet weekend for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, as Kevin Poulin and David Leggio had shutouts on Friday and Saturday respectively. Poulin stopped 34 against Providence in a 2-0 win, while Leggio had an easier job on Saturday with 19 saves in a 5-0 romp of the depleted Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Poulin didn’t have a chance to celebrate his second shutout of the season, as he was recalled (and started) on Saturday by the New York Islanders. Colin McDonald helped with the offense with two goals and two assists on the weekend, with Sebastian Collberg putting up two goals and an assist of his own.

-On the flip side, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were shutout all this weekend, as were the Hamilton Bulldogs. Of course, as mentioned, the Penguins are dealing with a lot of their regular players being called up to Pittsburgh thanks to the mumps epidemic going on there. Jeff Zatkoff was in net for three goals against and 37 saves in Friday’s loss against Binghamton before he got called up, while Matt Murray made 27 saves in Saturday’s loss against Bridgeport. For the Bulldogs, the mojo was gone from the previous week where they scored seven goals in two games– as Mike Condon let up four goals in the Boxing Day rivalry game against the Toronto Marlies, while Joey MacDonald let up five goals in Saturday’s loss against the Adirondack Flames. Not against the goalies, as the Bulldogs defense let up 67 shots in the two games, coupled with the lack of goal support– which caused a bad weekend after the holiday break.

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ECHL

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-With losing their two top goalies in the past few weeks, the Reading Royals were still able to get two wins out of the weekend in a home-and-home with the Elmira Jackals. They did have the services of Connor Knapp for Friday’s 5-2 win on the road, but since he was recalled to Lehigh Valley; Joe Howe was in net for the 4-3 win back in Reading. Matt Hatch was one of the top scorers for the Royals on the weekend with a goal and three assists, while defenseman Jordan Heywood came into the line-up (with Adam Comrie being called up on Saturday) and potted his first two goals of the season in only his eighth game.

-For the first time all season, the Allen Americans lost back-to-back games. After a win on Friday at home against the Tulsa Oilers; the Americans lost Saturday to the Wichita Thunder in a shootout, then lost by a goal against Tulsa in Tulsa. However, the offense was still going a bit as Jack Combs added to his league lead in points with six assists over the weekend, while Chad Costello closed the gap with a goal and four assists over the three games.

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SPHL

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-Should the Pensacola Ice Flyers want to three-peat as champions in the SPHL, their record has to be better on the road. Pensacola came out with only a split against the SPHL’s last place team in the Huntsville Havoc, losing 6-1 on Friday, but winning 3-2 on Saturday. That drops the Ice Flyers to 5-2-3 on the road compared to their 10-2-1 record at the Pensacola Civic Center. Max Strang was in net for both games and while he is the best choice, the Ice Flyers may have to use Matt Zenzola a little more to give Strang a rest for the playoffs and to prevent injury along the way. Nick McParland was the stand-out offensively this weekend with two goals and an assist in the weekend set.

-Conversely, the Knoxville Ice Bears may want to petition the league to play outside of the Knoxville Civic Coliseum for the rest of their season as they split a home-and-home with the Fayetteville FireAntz, winning the road game and putting their road record to 10-3-1 on the year. The Ice Bears home record is at 4-4-1, but being able to win on the road could help them come playoff time. Berkley Scott was all over the scoresheet with a hat trick on Friday and the lone goal on Saturday for the Ice Bears, as well as an unsuccessful penalty shot. Both games went to OT, with Fayetteville’s Kevin Murdoch playing big in net for the FireAntz stopping 62 of 66 shots he faced during the weekend.