MACON, Ga – Two weekends into the SPHL season, every team has now taken to the ice. And while it’s probably way too early to tell what each team has, there’s plenty to digest as the season continues in its early stages.
Bobcats not rolling over
Between having its opening weekend postponed and limited ice time, the maiden voyage has been nothing short of eventful for Vermilion County. But if there’s an element of distraction, the Bobcats coaching staff, led by head coach Mike Watt and its team didn’t show it during its season opener on Saturday night against Quad City.
Despite falling behind on two quick first-period goals by the Storm, the Bobcats clawed back, getting the first goal in franchise history from Zach White. Though Vermilion County fell short 3-2, the fact that a practically brand new team was that competitive was a roster of experience such as Quad City’s says one thing – that facing an expansion team does not mean any easy win each night.
Joyous return of hockey in Peoria
Few fan bases were as eager to see hockey last weekend as fans in Peoria. The Rivermen had to put opening weekend at Vermilion County on hold due to ice conditions at the Bobcats arena forcing a postponement, so the wait to see hockey was a bit longer for Peoria fans. After seeing the likes of Alec Hagaman head south to Pensacola last year and win a President’s Cup, the appetite to see the same in Peoria has likely been whetted for Rivermen fans. Needless to say, Peoria fans were ready to see hockey last weekend.
The Rivermen made that wait worth it with an opening-night win of 6-0 against Macon in front of 3,000-plus fans and took a 3-2 win a night later for an opening weekend sweep.
Arenas all over the SPHL have their challenges for opposing teams, but when you combine the long-time fan support in Peoria and strong teams that the Rivermen typically field, the Peoria Civic Center is usually a tough place to play, and this year appears to be no different.
Macon’s great adventure
Due to the age of the players on the roster of the Macon Mayhem, many of them may not have seen the 1980s cult classic movie, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” But Macon, which has its home opener on Friday against Fayetteville, can probably relate to the plight of Neal Page and Del Griffith, according to the Peoria Journal Star.
No word on whether or not Macon stayed at the Braidwood Inn…
On the Wednesday prior to Friday’s game at Peoria, the Mayhem entered scramble mode as their bus company was unable to transport the Mayhem to Peoria, as it had no drivers available. After being unable to find a bus, Macon had to get special permission from the league to fly toward Peoria, where half the team flew to St. Louis via Baltimore and the other half to St. Louis via Dallas. After being picked up by the Rivermen’s bus at the airport, another hurdle awaited the Mayhem, as they needed to borrow Peoria’s skate sharpener. A few hours later, Macon took the ice, losing 6-0.
The element of rest helped the Mayhem a night later as they fought hard, losing 3-2.
As inconvenient as last week may have been for Macon, it undoubtedly helped the team grow through the adversity, hardly a bad thing for a young team that is still getting used to one another.
Defensive statement by Fayetteville
It’s early, but defense appears to be a strength for the Fayetteville Marksmen. Through Fayetteville’s first two games of the season, the Marksmen have given up just one goal with the effort being backstopped both times by Jason Pawloski in goal. He’s one of two goalies in the SPHL along with Peoria’s Eric Levine to have a shutout so far this season.
In addition, Donald Olivieri’s plus-minus of four is tied for the league lead among defensemen with another Peoria player, Nick Neville.
Fayetteville has a home-and-home this weekend against Macon, where we’ll find out how good the Marksmen are on good defense or if they simply match up well against Roanoke.
Chemistry no issue for Havoc
One mark of a continual contender is the ability of new and existing players to mesh together.
That appears to be no problem for Huntsville, which is unbeaten through three games.
As one would expect, Nolan Kaiser and Sy Nutkevitch are among the league’s top five scorers. But a new face joins them. One of the SPHL’s biggest offseason additions, Jacob Barber, coming to Rocket City after being a fixture in Birmingham, leads the SPHL in scoring with eight points.
If the Havoc can keep that offensive rhythm up, they’ll be tough to beat.
“That team’s a good team over there. I think everybody has misconceptions about expansion teams and they’re very well-coached, the coach is very good, and it’s only a matter of time,” Quad City head coach Dave Pszenyczny on Vermilion County.
Storm apply pressure, topple Bobcats – by Anna Headley
Birmingham escapes weekend with two points – by James Hayes
Fan-favorite Cameron returns to Mayhem – by Brad Harrison
Photos: Roanoke Railyard Dawgs vs. Fayetteville Marksmen – by Michele Hancock
Photos: Evansville Thunderbolts vs. Quad City Storm – by Emily Anderson
Photos: Birmingham Bulls vs. Pensacola Ice Flyers – by Bill Kober
Fayetteville at Macon, 7:30 p.m. EDT
Pensacola at Huntsville, 7 p.m. CDT
Vermilion County at Evansville, 7 p.m. CDT
Roanoke at Birmingham, 7:30 p.m. CDT
Macon at Fayetteville, 6:00 p.m. EDT
Vermilion County at Quad City, 6:10 p.m. CDT
Roanoke at Knoxville, 7:35 p.m. EDT
Peoria at Evansville, 7:00 p.m. CDT
Pensacola at Birmingham, 7:00 p.m. CDT
Huntsville at Knoxville, 3 p.m. EDT
Vermilion County at Quad City, 2:10 p.m. CDT
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