MACON, Ga. – For the Peoria Rivermen, perhaps this is how fate intended it. The first step in their quest for a President’s Cup will be against a past nemesis and a team with which multiple Rivermen won a title during last year’s season in which Peoria was among the teams opting out – the Pensacola Ice Flyers.
There’s little blueprint to go off of for this version of either team this season. That’s because the last time that the Rivermen and Ice Flyers met was way back in February 2020 prior to COVID-19. Like the rest of the world, much has changed for both teams, but one constant has returned in that both are among the top teams in the SPHL.
The Ice Flyers have been steady most of the season, and their finish to the season shows that in that they won seven of ten contests, going a combined 2-3 against a pair of postseason clubs, Fayetteville and Evansville. The Rivermen, meanwhile, have a point to prove heading into the postseason. In the home stretch of the season, the Rivermen were 5-7 against teams other than last-place Vermilion County, which Peoria took on three times during that stretch.
How good is this Rivermen team? That question will be answered very soon.
The only postseason meeting between these teams is a joyous memory for Ice Flyers fans and bitter for Rivermen fans, with the 2016 President’s Cup Finals seeing Pensacola win all three games by one goal, including the series clincher in the game’s final second.
Final Regular Season Records:
Peoria Rivermen: 38-11-7, 83 points (3rd in SPHL)
Penascola Ice Flyers: 31-19-6, 68 points (6th in SPHL)
Series Schedule: (Home Team in BOLD CAPS and all times local):
Game 1 – Wednesday, April 13 – Peoria at PENSACOLA, in Pelham, Ala – 7:00 pm CT
Game 2 – Friday, April 15 – Pensacola at PEORIA – 7:15 pm CT
*Game 3 – Saturday, April 16 – Pensacola at PEORIA – 7:15 pm CT
* => If Necessary
How Peoria Wins:
For starters, the Ice Flyers don’t have a true home-ice advantage for game one since ice availability has shifted that contest to the Birmingham Bulls’ home arena in Pelham, Ala. If the Rivermen can seize the lack of home crowd from the Ice Flyers, it’ll be sitting pretty for games two and if needed, three in Peoria.
Regardless of the opponent, the Rivermen have had three of the league’s top scorers this year in Alec Baer, Alec Hagaman, and Marcel Godbout, whose 80, 71 and 61 points placed them in the league’s top five for the regular season. They also bring championship experience, as Hagaman and Godbout were on the Ice Flyers President’s Cup title-winning squad last year along with a handful of other Rivermen. If you want intangibles, that’s a good one from the Peoria standpoint. The Rivermen need their scorers to do what they did a lot of during the season – score goals.
In a postseason series, especially a best-of-three, great goalie play goes a long way. Eric Levine will need to rise to the occasion and continue to play near the level he did during the season with a league-best five shutouts and second-best in the SPHL 2.04 goals against average.
Peoria also needs to ensure that special teams don’t change momentum. It’s done a good job of that this year as shown by the top power-play and penalty-kill units in the league.
How Pensacola Wins:
Ok, so remember what we said about Peoria’s power-play unit? The second-best in the league is none other than Pensacola’s. The matchup of this unit against the Rivermen’s PK could easily be what decides this series.
The Ice Flyers quietly have two of the more active offensive threats in the league in Weiland Parrish and Brennan Blaszczak. Parrish’s 42 assists during the regular season placed him fourth among all SPHL players, and Blaszczak is second in the league with 31 goals
As fans of the defending champs know well after Jake Kupsky in the President’s Cup Finals last year, if a goalie can get hot for two or three games, it’s lights out for the opponent. Whether that guy for Pensacola is Cody Karpinsky or Sean Kuhn, they’ll need to play at a high level for the Ice Flyers to snag a series win.
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