PEORIA, Ill. – The SPHL first-place Peoria Rivermen welcomed the Pensacola Ice Flyers to the Peoria Civic Center on Saturday evening, for the final regular season game of the current SPHL season. Depending on outcomes around the league, with playoff rankings not complete yet, Pensacola and Peoria were looking to secure their slots as the weekend began.
This would be round two on the weekend, with the first round going to the Rivermen 4-1 the night before, which secured them as the William B Coffey Trophy winner as the regular season champions. On this evening, the Peoria team was hosting their annual Fan Appreciation game, with a surprise special team jersey to be auctioned after the game but also offered the team an opportunity to work out some details heading into the playoffs. Earlier in the day, the team reported the game would be Captain Alec Hagaman‘s final regular season game as he would be retiring at the conclusion of the Rivermen season – the special jersey being a tribute to the hometown Captain. In addition to all this, based on other SPHL games being played earlier in the evening, it was determined the Rivermen’s first round playoff opponent would be the Pensacola squad they were battling this weekend.
The Ice Flyers were able to keep pace with the Rivermen for two periods and then the Peoria team took over in the third; ultimately with a 4-1 win in front of 2792 in attendance. Those still in attendance until the very end, were treated with a speech from Hagaman and player autographs following the special jersey auction.
The first period was back and forth between both teams, with similar numbers of shots attempted but the Rivermen showing their defensive strength by blocking more shots and outshooting the Ice Flyers, with 10-5 shots on goal, in the first. The home bench and fans had a scare early in the first period when Hagaman was hit in the knee by a Pensacola player and went to the ice immediately. Unable, or unwilling, to put weight on the leg, he was helped to the bench and remained there for some time, missing ice time. By end of the game he appeared to be skating normally, to the delight of the home town. Nearing the half way mark of the first period, Ice Flyers forward Mitch Atkins was called for interference and the Rivermen wasted no time with Mitchell McPherson netting his 17th goal of the season a mere 18 seconds into the powerplay. Neither team would find the back of the net during the remaining 12 minutes but tension was elevated between both teams with officials keeping the peace. While the first period only had two infractions charged per team, the second frame would see the penalty box for the home team filled a majority of the period, Peoria earning 12 minutes and Pensacola being charged with six minutes. This translated to the Ice Flyers outshooting the Rivermen 8-7 in the middle stanza and scoring the only goal of the period when Jordan Henderson was able to move around the Peoria defense in the left circle and get a shot off that beat netminder Jack Berry. Late in the period, public address announced that the Rivermen would be playing Pensacola in the first round of the SPHL playoffs next weekend, so the game became a preview for both squads to size up their playoff competitor.
The third period had the Ice Flyers starting on the power play but the combination of Berry in net and all Rivermen players playing defense, the visitors were unable to light the lamp. Not sure what was said in the home locker room or the visitor locker room but the Rivermen controlled majority of the final frame only allowing three shots on net. The emotions were still running high but the Peoria team appeared to move the puck more and spent less time antagonizing their opponent. Rivermen took advantage of a powerplay opportunity when Cayden Cahill found a way to get the puck past Pensacola goalie Myles Hektor off a feed from Jordan Ernst at the 4:40 mark. Less than 40 seconds later, Ernst was rewarded with a pass from JM Piotrowski to give the Rivermen a 3-1 lead. Ice Flyers pulled Hektor for the extra attacker with under four minutes remaining in the game, unfortunately at 17:39 McPherson was able to find the net from the neutral zone, right in front of the Pensacola bench, for the empty net goal and his 18th of the season. Once the final buzzer sounded, Peoria outshot Pensacola 25-16 and were able to score on 2 of their 5 powerplays while Pensacola was unable to convert on their 6 opportunities.
Next up for both teams, they will meet on Thursday April 13, 2023, for best of three in Round 1 of the Presidents Cup Playoffs in Pensacola. Both will return to Peoria for game 2 on Saturday April 15 and, if needed, Sunday April 16 in Peoria.
Be sure to follow Field Pass Hockey’s SPHL writers for all the stories in this seasons Presidents Cup Playoffs.
Check out this photo gallery from Field Pass Hockey’s Tim Lester, who was able to capture the final 2022-2023 SPHL regular season game.
Tim Lester is Field Pass Hockey’s Peoria Rivermen and Quad City Storm photographer and will be bringing you action from both teams all season long.
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