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2023 President's Cup Playoffs

SPHL President’s Cup First Round Preview: #3 Huntsville Havoc vs. #6 Knoxville Ice Bears

#SPHL | No strangers to the postseason, the @HuntsvilleHavoc will look to crank up another postseason run as they open the postseason against the @Icebears. @FPHMayhem has a series preview

SPHL President’s Cup First Round Preview: #3 Huntsville Havoc vs. #6 Knoxville Ice Bears

This postseason will mark the end of an era for the Huntsville Havoc with head coach Glenn Detulleo planning to retire from coaching at season’s end. With many of the same players that have been to Huntsville’s success in recent seasons, Huntsville hopes to extend that farewell jaunt.

Chief among them is goalie Max Milosek. Having played for Huntsville from 2018 to 2022, he joined the Havoc late in the same after being up in the ECHL most of this season. He led Huntsville to the President’s Cup title in 2018 and 2019, earning postseason MVP in one of those years. He’s not the only key veteran who has been crucial for Huntsville this year. Sy Nutkevicth, Tyler Piacentini and Rob Darrar are among the top ten scorers in the league, and Dominick Procopio is arguably one of the league’s best defensemen as shown by a 29 plus-minus.

Goals have not been an issue for Knoxville this season. Justin MacDonald and Dean Balsamo rate in the league’s top three, and the Ice Bears rank second in the league in goals scored in the first period and first for goals scored in the second. The Ice Bears have looked at multiple options in net, eight in total, but Kristian Stead over time has won the job to steady things in the crease, starting 34 games to post a 3.07 GAA and 20-9-1 record.

Final Regular Season Records:

Huntsville: 34-19-3, 71 points   
Knoxville: 32-22-3, 67 points  

Series Schedule (Home team in CAPS and all times local):

Thursday, April 13 – Knoxville at HUNTSVILLE, 7:00 p.m. (at Huntsville Ice Sports Center)

Friday, April 14 – Huntsville at KNOXVILLE, 7:35 p.m.

Sunday, April 16 –  Knoxville at HUNTSVILLE, 7:00 p.m. (at Huntsville Ice Sports Center) (if necessary)

Season Series Recap:

The Havoc commanded things for the most part between the teams during the regular season, going 5-2 against the Ice Bears. The Havoc got a lot of mileage from playing well against Knoxville early, leading by multiple goals early in all but one of those wins. The exception was a 6-3 win in which Barber notched a hat trick in a comeback from an early 3-0 deficit. The Ice Bears turned the tables to a degree in one of their wins, leading 2-0 in a 5-2 victory. Needless to say- playing well early will be key, even moreso in the postseason. Of note? The none of the Havoc’s postseason goalies played for Huntsville in any of its season meetings with Knoxville, as Mike Robinson and Nick Latinovich were in net for those wins. But there’ll be plenty of familiarity in this series with two veterans between the the pipes for the Havoc,Milosek and Bernard.

How Huntsville Wins:

Huntsville has been a tough postseason out in recent seasons, and veteran experience has been a big reason why. Sure, not all of those faces are in the locker room, but when you have guys like Milosek in net and skaters such as Jacob Barber, Darrar and Piacentini on the ice, navigating the postseason is not uncharted territory. Huntsville has to lean on that belief that it can make another postseason run. The Havoc will also have to put themselves in position to win as the game goes on – they were 23-0 this season when leading after two periods. An x-factor here could be Milosek. Back with Huntsville after a good part of the year in the ECHL, he is no stranger to postseason runs for a championship, and in a three-game series, all it takes to win is for a goalie to get hot.

How Knoxville Wins:

One thing that could turn this series in favor of the Ice Bears? Penalty trouble for the Havoc. Knoxville’s power-play is rated second in the SPHL. The Ice Bears will also need to start fast. Why? Their 72 first-period goals are good for second in the league. Defensively, Rourke Russell will have to set the tone on both ends of the ice, and Balsamo and MacDonald will need to do what they did during the season – put pucks on net as the two were within the league’s top three in points. The Ice Bears, though not having home-ice advantage, have a chance to neutralize that since the Havoc won;t be able to play in the Von Braun Center due to ice availability.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2023 season!

    Brad Harrison covers the Macon Mayhem for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHMayhem.

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