EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Following an opt-out year for many teams in the SPHL, the Evansville Thunderbolts hope to pick up where they left off two seasons ago: fighting towards the top of the standings.
2019-20 Season in Review
The Evansville Thunderbolts opted out of the 2020-21 season. In their most recent season (2019-20), the T-Bolts finished the shortened season in fifth, with 57 points in 46 games (25-14-3-4) and just two points out of third place. They were on a six-game point streak at the time (4-0-1-1).
The big storyline was the play of forward Austin Plevy, who tallied 64 points (16G, 48A) in 45 games, leading all scorers in the SPHL. Following the cancellation of the end of the 2019-20 season, he was named the league’s Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. At the time of the stoppage, Plevy had 10 points in his last five games, recording three three-assists games in that time. In the crease, Brian Billett turned in an 8-3-2-2 record with a 2.90 goals against average and 0.917 save percentage.
Evansville finished the season with 153 goals for (3.33), good for third-best in the SPHL, and 151 goals against (3.28), good for sixth-best in the SPHL.
The Thunderbolts had the second-best powerplay, scoring on 37 of their 182 opportunities (20.3%). A key performer in the powerplay was forward Derek Sutliffe, who had seven powerplay goals, good for fourth in the league. Jacob Smith (6 goals) and Demico Hannoun (5 goals) were also instrumental on the powerplay.
It was the penalty kill that dragged the Thunderbolts, allowing 35 goals (second-most in the league) on the powerplay on 161 shorthanded opportunities (78.3%). Even though they gave up the third-fewest shorthanded opportunities in the league, the penalty kill ranked last.
Bringing back Plevy was obviously at the top of Head Coach Jeff Bes‘ to-do list. On July 21, he did just that. On August 11, the Thunderbolts announced the return of Billett, their second signing of the offseason. Since then, Bes has also re-signed Zane Jones, Tanner Butler, Brandon Lubin, and Hayden Hulton.
Bes has spoken highly of each of these players, recognizing the leadership capabilities each has.
2021-22 Schedule Breakdown
Evansville opens the 2021-22 campaign on the road, but not for long. This weekend, (October 15-16) the Thunderbolts head to the Quad Cities to face the Storm. Both teams head to Evansville next week for the home opener in the Ford Center on Friday, October 22.
The big excitement of the year is the addition of the Vermillion County Bobcats to the SPHL. Evansville and Vermillion County play 10 times this year. The Thunderbolts play every team in the SPHL this year, with the exception of Fayetteville. For a full schedule breakdown, click here.
The first storyline to watch for is how effectively can Plevy distribute the puck? After leading the SPHL in assists (48) two seasons ago, the Evansville offense will likely look for the play to go through Plevy’s stick.
The next intriguing storyline is that of Billett in net. His 8-3-2-2 record two years ago was solid enough to put his team in playoff contention. But after taking the 2020-21 season off, can he repeat this success?
The final (and maybe most important) storyline is the success rate of the penalty kill. Bes’ club is usually a disciplined one and that needs to be a strength of the team. Ranking near the top of the league in the penalty kill could be the key Evansville needs to bring a championship to the city of Evansville.
Prediction Sure to Go Right
The Thunderbolts have the outline of the puzzle made, now the inner-workings must come together. If they do, Evansville is a playoff lock.
Prediction Sure to Go Wrong
Ranking atop the league in the powerplay is tough, but leading the league on the penalty kill is even tougher. If the Thunderbolts can sit near the top in both categories, this will be a team fighting for the President’s Cup.
How will the Thunderbolts do this year? Will they return from an opt-out year on top, make the playoffs easily, sneak into the playoffs or struggle to stay in contention? Let us know your thoughts.
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