Five Games To Watch – SPHL

Hoo boy, it has been quite a minute since we last talked folks.

As many of you I’m sure are aware, I officially joined the Fayetteville Marksmen as the Director of Digital Marketing & Media just over a month ago.

Now with under a month until the 15th(!!!) season of SPHL hockey, I think it’s time to talk about some of the games to watch this season.

Peoria at Quad City – October 20

If you don’t know the significance of this game, welcome to an up-close-and-personal lesson of deep-seeded midwestern rivalry.

Peoria and QC had been an intense Land if Lincoln rivalry for many years. Unfortunately due to constant league movements, these two rivals haven’t met since a little after the turn of the decade.

However, the new kids on the block in Quad City will have to reignite the rivalry blood quick, as they’ll be facing off against the league’s defending regular season champion Rivermen.

A familiar face for the Rivermen will be behind the QC bench, as one of their top defensemen from last season, Dave Pszenyczny, is the bench boss for the Storm. No better feeling in the world than to have bragging rights over one of your best friends and former teammates, especially when you visit his barn.

Finally, this will be the first SPHL game for the beautiful gem of the quad cities, the TaxSlayer Center. These two organizations are hardly 90 minutes away from one another, so expect a mass exodus of sailors to travel to Moline.

All the marketing, all the off-season, and so many years of anticipation finally lead to the return of the battle for Illinois. This game has a lot of promise for a rough, grinding midwestern battle.

Macon at Fayetteville – November 3

Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re going to say: “of COURSE he picks a Marksmen game he’s SO biased”. Listen, there’s a few big reasons this is a game to watch, and I think you’ll agree.

This is the Marksmen annual Military Appreciation game, for a team not just veteran-owned, but deeply-rooted with the Special Operations Military base Fort Bragg. Fayetteville, down to its Marksmen name, is a military-based and troop-supporting team; a common favorite for us here at BLH.

It gets better, because in a similar manner, the Macon Mayhem are a first-class organization in supporting the military and in their play on the ice. Macon was an impressive team once again last season, not quite to the caliber of their President’s Cup runner-up the season before, but a legitimate playoff contender who finished in the final four. Once again, the Mayhem are drawing together an impressive roster, now under first year Head Coach, and minor league hockey legend, Leo Thomas.

Last year, the Marksmen Military Appreciation was the most-attended game of the season in Fayetteville by far. Working even closer with Fort Bragg this year, and having two more who served on staff, the expectations for this game to be even bigger are heavy. Not to mention, this is a specialty Jersey night for the Marksmen, and the bar has been set high for what to expect.

Yours truly will be on the call.

Pensacola at Huntsville – November 9

Not to beat a broken drum, but any game at Huntsville could be on this list as a game to watch. This organization is the diamond standard of what all independent professional sports teams should strive to be – heck, a lot of ECHL teams could learn a wealth of knowledge from them.

However, this game especially excites me as one to watch because of what it means to the organization from owners to fans. This is the Championship Night for the Havoc, who raise their second-ever President’s Cup Banner.

Some odd years ago, Huntsville was the worst-team in SPHL history. Now this is an organization that has surpassed every expectation of post-recession independent hockey, and shown that not only can a team succeed with outstanding leadership, but exceed.

This game is a well-deserved victory lap for an organization you can’t help but root for, that just does everything right.

However, much like everything leading to this point for the Havoc, it won’t come easy. The Ice Flyers finished last season as the #3 team in the SPHL regular season, and are always a tough test. If you’re Pensacola, you really want to spoil this party for the Huntsville faithful. This game will be LOUD.

Huntsville at Peoria – December 9

HOW was this game relegated to a Sunday, 3:00 P.M. start?!

This is the first return to Peoria for Huntsville since the massive 4-2 upset on April 29 that gave the SPHL their first #4 seed champion in history. Peoria was the regular-season champs and on home ice, as the Havoc furiously clinched their second-ever President’s Cup.

Both these teams are coming back stacked, and it’ll be a cold winter’s day in the heart of the Midwest as these two perennial powers once again duke it out.

It was vital for me that this game was at Peoria, just because that’s where it all ended last year. This is the Championship Match-Up perfectly crafted for fans.

For Peoria, this is a chance to expel some demons, even if only in a microcosm form. Revenge is a dish best served aggressively with a dominating performance in front of your fans.

For Huntsville, it’s your chance to reaffirm that you were the better team, and rub salt in the still-fresh wounds of the year sir Peoria.

I’ll be shocked if this isn’t one of, if not the, highest-attended Sunday game in the league this season.

Worth the price of admission or online-viewing.

Pensacola at Knoxville – April 6

This is the last game on the 2018-19 SPHL regular season schedule, and the final precursor before the most unique playoff format in pro hockey – the Challenge Round!

The reason that I picked this game of all the last weekend’s games, was because these two teams showcased the beauty of such a format. Last year’s #3 Flyers selected the #5 Knoxville Ice Bears in the Challenge Round instead of the #7 Mississippi Riverkings. Knoxville would go on go on to sweep the Flyers in the first-ever upset of the Challenge Round.

Knoxville is a team that plays a gritty, tough style with a lot of physicality that well-matches the speedier style of Pensacola. This helped lead to what could be considered an unexpected upset in the SPHL playoffs.

What better way to prepare ourselves for the second year of the CR, then by two strong playoff contenders meeting in a rematch in Knoxville. These are two teams with different play styles, and the final game of the season is the perfect way to Segway from regular season Saturday and Challenge Round Sunday.

The countdown is on, as another season of SPHL hockey prepares to get underway. With less than a month to game day, and just a couple weeks until the highly-competitive Training Camps get under way, there’s a lot to be excited about for Mason-Dixon Hockey.

We here at the BLH staff will have our feet and eyes all around SPHL rinks this season, and hope to see you out for more fun in independent hockey.

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