Much like the Federal Prospects Hockey League, who we covered earlier this week, the fine teams of the Southern Professional Hockey League have all hit the 14-game mark on their respective schedules, but unlike our FPHL piece where it was just observations and thoughts on the season so far, we’re going to hand out letter grades to the SPHL teams.
These are based on performance so far, with a little bit of that grade being influenced by our expectations we had for each team coming into the season.
As always, if you don’t like the grade your team received, it’s because we hate them. Also, unless a team is undefeated, there are no A+ grades, because that is reserved for perfection.
Teams are presented in alphabetical order.
Birmingham Bulls: C-
The Bulls entered the year with a lot of hype and looking to take the next step after falling in last season’s President’s Cup Final. Instead, they’ve been less than average, sporting a -12 goal differential, losing more often than they’ve won on home ice, and currently sitting in 7th place. They’re still in good shape for the playoffs, but being eight points back of home ice is a tough climb, especially with the teams immediately in front of them showing signs of life.
Evansville Thunderbolts: B
Evansville was a disaster last year, so there was nowhere to go but up. And up they have gone! Sure their mark of 8-8-1 isn’t amazing by any stretch, but they’ve won four in a row, including a 10-3 pantsing of Macon last weekend. Jeff Bes has the team playing strong, exciting hockey, and even sniffing around for home ice. If they can find a way to shore up the defense and goaltending, this could be a sleeper team for a deep playoff run come the spring.
Fayetteville Marksmen: A
Really impressive season for the Marksmen, with just three losses so far, they sit just two points back of Peoria for first place. They’ve made their hay on the road, with a REALLY impressive 6-1 mark. And they’ve done it at both ends of the ice, scoring the fourth most goals in the league while giving up the second fewest. If the team isn’t ravaged by call-ups to the ECHL like they were the past couple weekends, they should be right there at the end of the season. Now if only the fans would start to show up.
Huntsville Havoc: B-
Much like they did last year, Huntsville hasn’t started as hot as fans would like, but at 9-7-1, they’re not a disaster and are just four points back of second place. Call it a feeling, but this strikes me as a team that will find a way to get hot at the right time. Oddly, the Havoc haven’t been great on home ice, going just 3-3 so far. But they’ve already played 11 road games, so they’ll have plenty of home chances coming up to get back on track. The minus on this grade is because of the sky-high expectations this team has set by winning back-to-back championships, but again, this feels like a team that will be in the conversation at the end of the year.
Knoxville Ice Bears: A-
Probably the most exciting team in the SPHL this year, the Ice Bears boast the third-best goal differential in the league (+18) and have scored 11 more goals than the next closest team. They’re currently tied for second just two back of first, but the teams they’re in a race with have two games in hand, add in that they’ve given up the most goals of any of the teams in the Top-5 in the standings, and they get knocked down to an A-, but still a great start to the season for Knoxville, who are also road warriors with a 6-1 mark there so far.
Macon Mayhem: F
Hoo boy, where to start. They’ve given up the most goals in the league by seven, are just 3-11-2 on the season despite playing TWELVE, as in one two 12, games on home ice so far, with two more this coming weekend. They already fired their coach, are dead last in the league in attendance by a mile, and of their four road games, have yet to get a point. Basically, anything that could go wrong, has gone wrong for Macon to start the season. Every since a hot start that lasted through about Christmas last season, this team has been in a tailspin. I don’t want to write teams off this early, but this is the only team I don’t see having a playoff chance.
Pensacola Ice Flyers: B+
The Ice Flyers have been dominant on home ice, 7-0-1, and remain the only team in the SPHL without a regulation loss at home. They’ve held their own on the road at 3-3-1, but they do leave a lot of questions. Yes, their record looks pretty dang good at 10-3-2 to start the year, just one point back of second and three back of first, but a goal differential of +6 isn’t as much as you’d think for a team five games over .500. But, if you’re winning close games, that means you have strong goaltending, and giving up the third-fewest goals in the league so far, they certainly appear to be set there, which should help them continue to win close games and keep the in the hunt for a prime playoff spot.
Peoria Rivermen: A
An amazing start to the season for last year’s record-setting regular season champs. 12-1-1, the only team in the league to not lose a game in regulation ON THE ROAD, and a league-best goal differential of +27. Their goal differential is one more goal than they’ve given up on the entire season, and they’re the second highest scoring team in the league. They have no flaws at the moment, despite a bunch of ECHL call-ups so far. This team has nothing left to prove in the regular season, now, can they finally get it done in the playoffs and win the first SPHL title in franchise history?
Quad City Storm: C
They’re ahead of last season’s pace, but that’s not saying much. We’ll admit, we had low expectations for them entering the season, and are right about where they thought we’d be. They’re currently holding down the last playoff spot by three points, but have the second-worst goal differential in the league, and have scored the fewest goals in the league, while giving up the third most. In minor league hockey, you need to score goals at some point. The hard part for them, is so many games against Peoria hasn’t helped and won’t help the rest of the way, so we’ll see if they can hang on the rest of the way for the first playoff appearance in the SPHL.
Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs: D
Man, what happened to this team? They appeared to be a team on the rise last season with a late push and then upset of Peoria in the first round. Instead, they’ve been BRUTAL on home ice, going just 1-4-1, and have given up the second most goals in the league. They look like they’re starting to turn it around with a pair of wins against a tough Knoxville team in their last three games, and remain just three points back of a playoff with lots of time left. So far, this may be the most disappointing team of the season.
So those are our grades a quarter of the way into the season, were we too tough? Too lenient? Just right? Tell us in the comments or get into an argument with us on social media about it!