March 28, 2007 - Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL)
The SPHL\'s most competitive regular season ended on Sunday, March 25th when Fayetteville defeated Knoxville by a 5-3 score. The end of the regular season leads into a postseason that will begin on Thursday night when the Columbus Cottonmouths hosts the Jacksonville Barracudas in their best-of-five series. The remaining two series kick off on Friday night when Knoxville plays host to Richmond and Huntsville visits Fayetteville.
SPHL Scoring Race Decided in Last 29 Seconds of Season Swider Continues Three Year Run with Late Goal
The SPHL scoring championship remained in Knoxville with Kevin Swider, but there may have been no closer scoring champi¬onship won without using a tie-breaker in the history of pro hockey. The final day of the SPHL\'s third season started with Swider\'s Ice Bears facing Rob Sich\'s Fayetteville FireAntz with Swider in front of Sich by two points. Because the SPHL uses most goals scored to break any tie on the scoring charts, and Sich had an SPHL-record 46 to his credit, Swider needed to stay one point ahead of Sich to win the title.
Swider moved his lead to three points when he picked up an assist on Mike Tuomi\'s goal in the first period, but Sich made a run at Swider by picking up three assists to move into a tie, which for him was as good as a win. However, Swider wasn\'t done. Knox¬ville picked up a late power play when Josh Piro was sent off for interference and Swider cashed in a goal to win the championship by a 93 to 92 margin.
Sich led the SPHL with a record 46 scores while linemate Tim Velemirovich set the pace with 59 helpers which was one more than Pee Dee\'s Edan Welch who lost his chance to claim the helper award when he missed the last week of the season. Columbus\' Ryan Rutz finished second in goal scoring with 37 tallies. Velemirovich set the SPHL record for scoring by a rookie with 89 points.
Rycroft King of the Crease
Chad Rycroft led the SPHL in goals against average with a 3.11 mark and he also led with a .912 save percentage. Both marks were respectively, the highest and lowest mark for a regular season leader in SPHL play. Rycroft staved off a late challenge from Knoxville\'s Terry Dunbar (3.13) in the goals against category while Richmond\'s Doug Groenestege (.909) was the runner up in the save percentage rankings.
Ryan Senft, Rycroft\'s teammate in Georgia, finished fourth in the league with a goals against average of 3.36 and had a save per¬centage of .907, good for third in the league.
Defenseman Scoring Title Goes to Huntsville
Huntsville Havoc defender Jonathan Lounsbury won the SPHL defensemen scoring championship with 48 points as he edged out Richmond\'s Brian Goudie who had 45 points. Lounsbury won the championship on the strength of 44 helpers which were six more than Goudie picked up. The goal scoring championship went to rookie defender Dylan Row who lit the lamp 15 times for the Fayetteville FireAntz. Fayetteville also enjoyed the services of Mike Clarke, last season\'s SPHL Defenseman of the Year, who picked up 32 assists and 38 points in just 28 games after arriving from a stint with Bloomington in the UHL.
Fayetteville Claims Three Major Awards
Huntsville Named SPHL Franchise of the Year
Three members of the Fayetteville FireAntz organization cashed in on their hot finish to win major SPHL awards. The awards were voted on by each of the teams in the league and one vote was awarded to the Pro Hockey News. Teams were not allowed to vote for their own players.
The three members earning the honors were Rob Sich (MVP), Tim Velemirovich (Rookie of the Year) and John Marks (Coach of the Year). For Sich, 23, it marked the second consecutive season he took home a major award from the SPHL after winning the Rookie of the Year last season. Sich finished second in the league this year just one point behind Kevin Swider and set the SPHL record for goals in a season with 46.
Velemirovich, 26, who joined the FireAntz this season after playing for the University of Manitoba, finished the season with a league-high 59 assists and set the SPHL rookie scoring record with 89 points.
Marks, 59, won the Coach of the Year award for the first time in his 20 years as a professional head coach despite the fact has two ECHL championships to his credit.
The league\'s other major award winners included Columbus\' Chad Rycroft, Richmond\'s Brian Goudie and the Huntsville Havoc who won the SPHL Franchise of the Year award.
Rycroft, 28, won the award after pacing the league in goals against average and save percentage and teamed up with Ryan Senft to give the club a dynamic 1-2 goaltending corps on their way to the Commissioner\'s Cup as league regular-season champions.
Goudie, 34, took home the Defenseman of the Year trophy thanks to his fine defensive play and after averaging nearly a point¬per-game. Goudie\'s on-ice accomplishments were made even while he had significant off-ice duties as the Renegades assistant coach.
The Huntsville Havoc were named as the inaugural Pro Hockey News/SPHL Franchise of the Year for their contributions to the community, commitment to their fans and on ice performance. The Havoc set an SPHL record for average attendance with an av¬erage of 3,914 fans, donated over $80,000 to various charities around the city of Huntsville and spent countless hours in schools and at other team functions.
In addition to these awards the SPHL voters named their First and Second All-Star Teams and for the first time, in recognition of the many fine rookies in the league, an All-Rookie club.
First Team Second Team Rookie Team
Forward Kevin Swider, Knoxville Tim Green, Columbus Tim Velemirovich, Fayetteville
Forward Rob Sich, Fayetteville James Patterson, Huntsville Mike Tuomi, Knoxville
Forward Allan Sirois, Pee Dee Tim Velemirovich, Fayetteville Daryl Moore, Pee Dee
Defenseman Brian Goudie, Richmond Doug Searle, Knoxville Dylan Row, Fayetteville
Defenseman Jonathan Lounsbury, Huntsville Steve Howard, Columbus Phillip Youngclaus, Richmond
Goaltender Chad Rycroft, Columbus Matt Carmichael, Huntsville Doug Groenestege, Richmond
Swider Sich Sirois Goudie Lounsbury Rycroft
The Cottonmouths played three games on the road this week, winning the first two games and clinching first place before losing their regular season finale to the Jackson¬ville Barracudas. The club started the week with an up-and-down contest against the Barracudas that saw the two clubs combine for 105 shots on goal. Lorne Misita con¬nected on his 10th shot of the game just 15 seconds into overtime with an assist from Ty¬lor Keller. Chad Rycroft played solidly in net as he turned away 48 shots off of Barracu¬das sticks. Keller was the star of the next game in Richmond after the club blew a two-goal lead in the third period. Keller\'s goal came just a minute into overtime and clinched first place for the club. The goal allowed Keller to finish with a point in each of the team\'s three goals on the night. But the story of the evening was Ryan Senft. Senft had a sensational night as he kicked aside 49 shots and remained in the game despite being flattened during a scrum that saw Richmond score the then-tying goal. The season finale, played in Jacksonville, saw a tired club fall 4-2 to the Barracudas despite outshooting them by a 40-26 margin. The team signed defender Galloway Carroll to a contract after the game, but roster decisions will need to be made before the playoffs start. Coach Jerome Bechard said he needed to find out about the health of Tim Green (suspended by the club for internal matters) and Tom Wilson\'s availability. Wilson\'s services will de¬pend on his ability to find someone to work at the fire department in his place. Wilson missed two days of practice in Richmond, but played in the game when he flew to Rich¬mond in time to play.
Despite finishing tied with Knoxville with 70 points, the team lost out on second place due to the Ice Bears having more wins than Fayetteville. That the FireAntz finished third should not diminish the fact that the club went 14-1-1 down the stretch. Fayetteville tied with the Ice Bears after sweeping them in a home-and¬home series to finish the year. Fayetteville won the first game of the set in Tennes¬see when Mike Clarke scored his second goal of the game at the 13:39 mark of the third period. The game-winning goal was the only FireAntz score that was not reg¬istered on the power play during the 4-3 victory. With backup netminder Garrett Kindred in goal for the team, he made 32 saves while Tim Velemirovich picked up three assists. Fayetteville spotted the Ice Bears a goal in the season finale, but scored five goals before Knoxville scored two goals late in the game. Clarke and Rob Sich each had three helpers during the win and finished in second in the league\'s scoring race with 92 points on the strength of a league-record 46 goals. Sich wound up the season playing in just 51 games and probably would have fin¬ished first in the league had he played in more games. The second-year player picked up 57 points in just 25 games with the team. Chad Wilcox missed the games due to suspension, but is eligible for the playoffs.
Dan Buccella returned from injury and scored twice, including the game-winning goal, in a 4-3 win over the Pee Dee Cyclones to help the club end the season on a win¬ning note. Huntsville can also look at the fact it limited the Cyclones to just 12 shots during the course of the evening. The rest of the week was not as good as the end, as the Havoc dropped a pair of road games. The first game, a 5-3 loss to Knoxville, stayed that close solely because Nick Niedert stopped all 31 shots he faced in relief of Matt Carmichael. Niedert wasn\'t as successful in the next game however, as Jacksonville lit him up for seven goals, despite 39 saves, in a 7-3 loss. Buccella led the club in scoring in that game, his first game back from a knee injury, as he picked up two assists. Billy McCreary impressed the club enough with six points in his first seven games to make it onto the roster on a more permanent basis. The club had to make some roster moves, and waived Mike Degurse and suspended Justin Schmit. Schmit and Luke Phillips had meltdowns in the Ice Bears game and as a result, Phillips will not be available until the second game of the playoffs. Huntsville signed Chris Shaw after he was waived by the Richmond Renegades as Martin Kubaliak is unable to play.
The Barracudas won their last two games of the regular season and just missed passing the Richmond Renegades for fifth place by a single point. Jacksonville also picked up a point in its first game of the week as the club took the first-place Columbus Cottonmouths into overtime before losing, after a turnover early in the extra frame. Jacksonville fought back from deficits three times during the game as Steve Zoryk had two goals and an assist while answering Columbus goals. Ryan Person played strongly in defeat, making 48 saves before being beaten on a breakaway by Lorne Misita just 15 sec¬onds into overtime. The club showed its resiliency once again as it fell behind Huntsville by a 3-1 count early in the second period before scoring six unanswered goals to win going away. Kahlil Tho¬mas, Pat Doherty and Jim Murphy each scored twice in the win for the Barracudas, while Person came up with 36 stops. Defender Andrew Morris scored twice and Matt Meacham made 38 stops as the club knocked off the Cottonmouths in the rematch. This game was a bit different, as the \'Cudas grabbed a 2-0 lead which they lost, before winning with two unanswered goals. A very nice crowd of 4,557 attended the contest. Tyrone Garner was listed on the score sheet in the last game in error as he did not participate in the game. His status is day-to-day. Zoryk also missed the last game and is also listed as day-to-day.
The Ice Bears took care of business early in the week with a pair of wins, but lost a home-and¬home series with Fayetteville to finish the season with a two-game losing streak. Defender Doug Searle had two goals, while Kevin Swider and Matt Kohansky each had a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win over Huntsville in Tennessee. The club then staved off a late rally by the Pee Dee Cy¬clones to clinch second place, thanks to a 5-4 win. Ben Manny scored twice in a game that saw the Cyclones limited to only 18 shots on goal. The team then dropped a pair to the FireAntz, losing 4- 3 at home and 5-3 on the road. Rookie Mike Tuomi gave the Ice Bears a 1-0 lead in the finale, but the club then watched as the FireAntz rallied for five consecutive goals. Manny and Swider scored late in the game to make the game closer on the scoreboard than it was on the ice. The team signed Craig Vardy to an official contract prior to the game and he made 29 saves. Knoxville was short¬handed as Mike Craigen sat out a suspension from the previous night, and David Segal remained on the side with his three-game banishment. Segal cannot return to the lineup until the second game of the playoffs. While many consider Segal solely a physical player, it should be noted he scored 13 goals and was a plus-3 this year. Knoxville will need to watch the penalties in the play¬offs: the Ice Bears gave up 22 power play chances in the two games against the FireAntz. Rob Flynn was activated and Manny was waived as the team rounded out their playoff roster.
Despite finishing the season without its two top scorers, Allan Sirois and Edan Welch, with a com¬bined 153 points this year, the club battled right to the end. Pee Dee knocked Richmond into fifth place with a 5-4 overtime win on Thursday night, thanks to a goal from Geoff Rollins. For Rollins, it was his second goal of the night and he was denied being named the first star of the game only be¬cause the goal was initially awarded to Daryl Moore. Moore had his usual night as a Renegades killer as he picked up a goal and two helpers. The club\'s limited roster caught up on the weekend as the team fired only 18 shots on goal in Knoxville and 12 on goal against Huntsville in a pair of one-goal losses. Pee Dee scored the game\'s last three goals against the Ice Bears to make it close, but Jeff Mar¬ler\'s two goals proved not enough in a 5-4 loss. Chris Rebernik, John Gurskis and Moore each had a goal and an assist in the final game of the year, a 4-3 loss to the Havoc. General Manager Mark Rich¬ards had an interesting week on and off the ice. He played in all three games and got absolutely steamrolled by a clean, hard check from Richmond\'s Mat Goody. Off the ice, he was named to the Memphis RiverKings all-time club as a goaltender. Rollins (Augusta) and Jason Slusher (Trenton) had their season extended when they received opportunities to play in the ECHL. However, the big news in Florence came when the club\'s lease was not renewed. Team ownership is actively negotiat
ing for a lease in another city.
A fully staffed Richmond Renegades club took the first place Columbus Cottonmouths to the wall in their season finale, but came up just a bit short in a 3-2 overtime loss. Richmond out shot the Cotton¬mouths by a wide 51-26 margin, but Columbus goaltender Ryan Senft stonewalled the team repeat¬edly. The club was behind 2-0, but staged a third-period rally on scores from J.J. Wrobel and Danny White. Brian Goudie and Tyler Schremp were back in the lineup after serving suspensions, and the team responded to both players, especially Goudie, who plays nearly 40 minutes each night he is in the lineup. The club definitely missed Schremp against Pee Dee, a team he absolutely destroyed this season, with 16 points in eight games against the Cyclones. The game against the Cyclones also went into overtime, and the team lost when Geoff Rollins scored. White and Goody scored in the third pe¬riod to force the overtime, with Goody getting his second goal of the night and ninth of the season. The team waived swingman Chris Shaw after he did not play the last two games of the season. The Renegades drew an average of 3,419 this year, which is an SPHL expansion team record and the fourth highest average in the history of the league. The club added Ben Manny to its playoff roster.
#6 Jacksonville (25-24-7, 57 points) vs. #1 Columbus (36-18-2, 74 points)
Head to Head
Jacksonville vs. Columbus (3-7-3). Leading scorers: Jason Cassells (3-10-13), Jim Murphy (4-7-1 1), Ryan Webb (7-3-10), Pat Doherty (4-5-9). Goaltending: Matt Meacham (3-2-1, 2.82 GAA, .925 SV%), Ryan Person (0-4-1, 5.20 GAA, .862 SV%). PP% 9.8 SH% 78
Columbus vs. Jacksonville (10-3-0). Leading scorers: Tylor Keller (6-14-20), Tim Green (10-7-17), Ryan Rutz (8-6-14), Lorne Misita (4-10- 14). Goaltending: Ryan Senft (6-1-0, 2.41 GAA, .933 SV%), Chad Rycroft (4-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .914 SV%). PP% 22 SH% 90.2
The season series: Jacksonville and Columbus know each other all too well - they have met an astounding 10 times since February 3rd. In those meetings down the stretch, only three were decided by three goals or more. Four of the contests held a margin of victory ofjust one goal and two of those came in overtime (both won by Columbus).
Columbus season in review: Fans in Columbus finally can shake their "We\'re Number 1" fingers in the direction of Knoxville as the Cotton¬mouths won the Commissioner\'s Cup outright. Coach/General Manager Jerome Bechard built his team around a solid core and very rarely devi¬ates from the schematics. The line of Tim Green, Tylor Keller and Ryan Rutz is one of the top combos in the league and with the likes of Lorne Misita, Orrin Hergott, Mark Prentice and Craig Stahl coming off the bench, the Cottonmouths certainly have a deadly bite. Mat Ponto and Steve Howard anchor the defense in front of goaltenders Chad Rycroft and Ryan Senft, both of whom finished near the top of the league stats. Ry¬croft took a shot on the shoulder in the final game against the Barracudas but stayed in net and should be ready to go while Green has had some nagging injuries of late but should be in the lineup.
Jacksonville season in review: Consistency - or lack thereof - was the buzz in Jacksonville. First year coach Rick Allain built a team that was long on youth and sometimes showed its inexperience. Captain Greg LeColst lost time during the season with a broken arm but returned to the lineup and has played some of his best hockey. Ryan Webb and Pat Doherty were their usual steady selves and Jim Murphy added spark to the offense. Veterans Steve Zoryk, Kahlil Thomas and Billy Rochefort joined the roster from the defunct Florida Seals, adding some much needed leadership both on the ice and in the locker room. Goaltenders Ryan Person and Matt Meacham showed flashes of brilliance between the pipes. Other than a lower body injury to Zoryk that a little rest should help heal, the Barracudas are healthy.
What to Look For
What to look for: With the two teams having faced each other so often in the final weeks of the season, there is little that either one doesn\'t know about the other. On paper, Columbus is the better team. If the Cottonmouths play their game and don\'t get caught up in looking past Jack¬sonville, they will be hard to beat. The Barracudas have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They are the underdogs and relish the fact that the pressure will be on Columbus. If the confident, unafraid Jacksonville team that soundly defeated Huntsville and Columbus on the final weekend of the season shows up, this series could be a classic; otherwise, it might not be pretty.
They said it
"I don\'t think anybody can look at Jacksonville and say that they don\'t have a good hockey team. We match up well against them and they match up well against us. For the most part, they\'re not a last place hockey team. We just have to be prepared well and come out and work hard." - Columbus coach Jerome Bechard
"They (Jacksonville) don\'t play really with any fear. They go 100% all the time. They can win just as much as we can." - Columbus forward Lorne Misita
"They\'ve (Columbus) certainly got to be the favorites. They\'re the first place club and they have a lot of veterans on that team. They\'ve earned their first place ranking and we\'re going to have to try to slay the giant I guess." - Jacksonville coach Rick Allain
"On paper, they\'ve (Columbus) got one of the better teams in the league. When it comes down to it on the ice, just look at the results. We\'re optimistic going in as underdogs but it\'s better to be an underdog probably than being the first place team. They have everything to lose and we have everything to gain out of it." - Jacksonville goaltender Ryan Person
Best of Five
Thursday, March 29 at Columbus
Friday, March 30 at Columbus
Sunday, April 1 at Jacksonville
Tuesday, April 3 at Jacksonville (if necessary)
Friday, April 6 at Columbus (if necessary)
This report was written with assistance from Don Money
#5 Richmond (27-25-4, 58 points) vs. # 2Knoxville (33-19-4, 70 points)
Head to Head
Richmond vs. Knoxville (4-5-0). Leading scorers, JJ Wrobel (4-8-12), Brian Goudie (3-7-10), Danny White (4-5-9) and Andre Gill (six assists). Goaltending; Doug Groenestege (4-4, 2.91 GAA, .936 SV%) and Jay Chrapala (0-1, 7.63 GAA, .806 SV%). PP% 17.5 SH % 86.8
Knoxville vs. Richmond (5-3-1). Leading scorers, Kevin Swider (10-8-18), Mike Tuomi (3-11-14), Mike Craigen (3-6-9) and Doug Searle (seven assists). Goaltending; Terry Dunbar (5-3-1, 2.66 GAA, .907 SV%). PP% 13.2 SH% 84.5
The season series; Richmond won four of the first six games of the slate, but Knoxville came on to win the next three games to claim the series with a 5-3-1 mark. The clubs fostered a hate for each other that permeated the contests. A key in this series will be which team can maintain their discipline. Knoxville is coming off an 8-2 win in the last game between the clubs, but the deficit was caused in part by the absence of Goudie and some other factors.
Knoxville season in review; The Ice Bears did not win the Commissioner's Cup for the first time in SPHL history and finished behind the Co¬lumbus Cottonmouths. Coach Jim Bermingham made wholesale changes down the stretch and brought in Tim Vitek and Craig Geerlinks from the ruins of the Florida Seals along with Matt Kohansky and K.C. Caudill from elsewhere. Knoxville features a big team that can ice a large defensive corps and a tough determined group of forwards. Three-time SPHL leading scorer Kevin Swider leads an offense that features Mike Tuomi and threeother players who averaged a point-per-game or better while a member of the Ice Bears. Terry Dunbar will be in goal for the Ice Bears who hope to defend their President's Cup Championship from last year. Forward David Segal will not be available for the first game due to suspension.
Richmond season in review; At one point the Renegades were in first place in the league, but a lousy March sent the club into a freefall. Still it has hard to remember that just a few short months ago there was no Renegades team. One of the high points in the Renegades season was a 37- save shutout by Groenestege in Knoxville on November 24th. The team enjoys the one-on-one skills of JJ Wrobel, and the tandem of Danny White and Andre Gill up front. Donald Melnyk and Tyler Schremp have also had days when they were amongst the top performers in the loop. Dean Jackson had a scoring drop off, but has counterbalanced the decrease with hard-work and hard-checking. Mat Goody is amongst the high¬est-skilled enforcers in the league. On defense the club counts highly on Goudie, Mike Owens and Phillip Youngclaus.
What to Look For
These teams do not like each other as evidenced by an in-print and on-the-ice battle between Doug Groenestege and Mike Craigen. At season's end, discounting two Knoxville losses to Fayetteville, these two teams were going in different directions as the Ice Bears were 7-1 before they played the FireAntz and the Renegades slumped down the stretch at 2-6-2. Richmond has to hope their signature hard-working style can defeat a more talented club. Coach John Brophy has an ample amount of playoff experience to draw on and disseminate to his club. Ben Manny might prove to be an x-factor in this series after he was released by Knoxville right before the playoffs and signed by Richmond.
Knoxville's mission is to rely on their previous playoff experience together and allow Richmond's weak offense (the club finished last in scor¬ing in the SPHL) to dash themselves against the big trio of Doug Searle, Geerlinks and Curtis Menzul. The Ice Bears do not need Mike Craigen to stir it up too much in this series. Knoxville will look towards Swider and Tuomi to continue their strong production.
They Said It
"It's a short series, but they're coming off a two game losing streak too. You never know what's gonna\' happen. They play their rink well, but we've had success there, too."- Richmond SPHL Defenseman of the Year Brian Goudie
"We changed up our system to where we're more of a hard-skating team, adding pressure and forechecking. We tried it against the best team in the league and we dominated them the whole game. If we can do it against that team, there's no reason we can't do it against Knoxville."- Richmond forward JJ Wrobel
"I think (our defense) is a key advantage for us. I wanted to get Craig Geerlinks (when Florida folded) because especially in our building we rely on turnovers and good "d" zone coverage...our key focus is to put a lot of rubber on net and gets tons and tons of traffic in front of the the goaltender, because no matter who is in goal, if they can\'t see it they can\'t stop it."- Knoxville coach Jim Bermingham
"Dunnie (Mike Dunbar) has been with us since his rookie season and he is starting to play his best hockey right now. He was struggling a bit at the beginning of the season, but we feel great with him. We are only going as far as Terry Dunbar takes us."- Knoxville forward Mike Craigen.
Best of Three
Friday, March 30 at Knoxville
Saturday, March 31 at Richmond
Tuesday, April 3 at Knoxville (if necessary)
This report was written with assistance from Tom Brandt
#4 Huntsville (29-23-4, 62 points) vs. # 3Fayetteville (32-18-6, 70 points)
Head to Head
Huntsville vs. Fayetteville (3-1-0): Leading scorers: Jonathan Lounsbury (0-6-6), Tristan Senior (5-0-5), Trevor Karasiewicz (3-2-5) and James Patterson (1 -4-5). Goaltending: Matt Carmichael (3-1 -0, 2.47 GAA, .928 SV%). PP% 23.3 SH% 96.9
Fayetteville vs. Huntsville (1-2-1): Leading scorers: Josh Welter (3-1-4), Tim Velemirovich (0-4-4), Jarrett Robertson (0-4-4) and Dylan Row (2-1-3). Goaltending: Chad Collins (1-2-1, 3.73 GAA, .877 SV%). PP% 3.1 SH% 76.7
The season series; There were only four meetings between the Havoc and the FireAntz, all of them coming before the 10th of February. Only one of the games - the meeting on January 26 at Fayetteville - was a true blowout as the visiting Huntsville squad blanked Fayetteville 4-0.
Huntsville season in review; The Havoc spent most of the initial months near or at the top of the SPHL standings. Then came February and Huntsville came crashing back to earth, falling back into the middle of the pack. Coach John Gibson\'s squad boasted no less than five players who had 50 points or more, led by winger James Patterson. Travis Kauffeldt, Trevor Karasiewicz, Mike O\'Sullivan and rookie Tristan Senior all were at or above the half-century mark while defenseman Jonathan Lounsbury came up just two points short of the mark. Just before the season ended they added sharpshooter Justin Keller, another victim of the demise of the Florida Seals. Last year\'s SPHL MVP Matt Carmichael didn\'t have the huge numbers in net as he did a year ago but still was among the league\'s best and was named to the second All-Star team.
Fayetteville season in review; Coach John Marks\' troops had in essence two seasons wrapped into one. For more of the first half, they lan¬guished near the back of the pack. Then in one fell swoop, Marks hit the lottery when 2005-2006 Defenseman of the year Mike Clarke returned to Fayetteville, muscle was found with Chad Wilcox along with SPHL MVP Rob Sich. Sich immediately clicked with linemates Josh Welter and rookie Tim Velemirovich, forming a line that was second to none down the stretch. With BJ Stephens, Josh Tataryn, Josh Piro and defense-man Dylan Row among others adding scoring balance, the \'Antz were the hottest team down the stretch. Goalie Chad Collins had the most wins of any net minder in the league.
What to Look For
Huntsville\'s mission is clear: stop Sich, Welter and Velemirovich. Although easier said than done, the Havoc will most likely use their physical advantage to try to knock the \'Antz off their game. If the defense holds, the offense has the tools to get the job done.
Fayetteville needs its big three to lead the way but the second and third line scoring will have to be there in order for the FireAntz to succeed. They also need to keep their heads when Huntsville starts banging away because they will need all of their focus to win.
They Said It
"We\'ve had some success against them (Fayetteville) but they\'ve made some good changes and we haven\'t played them in a while. I think it\'s going to be a pretty wide open first round with two big ice surfaces and two hot goalies in Carmichael and Collins. It\'s going to be a solid se¬ries." - Huntsville coach John Gibson
"We\'re both speed teams. I think we have more firepower but I also think it\'s going to be a defensive series, playoff hockey. If we play physi¬cal, our speed will help us out." - Huntsville forward Mike O\'Sullivan
"Huntsville is a big, big concern. They were in first place for the first half of the season but then had a bit of a down spell. They outscored us 17 -10 in four games and shut us out in one of them. They are a good team in a short series. They have the MVP (Carmichael) from last season, Lounsbury, Patterson. I like them. They also have Buccella and picked up Keller. They have a good hockey team." Fayetteville SPHL Coach of the Year John Marks.
"The playoffs in this league are tough. We know about Huntsville and we\'ve been working on them. It should be a pretty good series as every¬one knows (how good) Huntsville is."- SPHL MVP Rob Sich
Best of Three
Friday, March 30 at Fayetteville
Saturday, March 31 at Huntsville
Tuesday, April 3 at Fayetteville (if necessary)
This report was written with assistance from Don Money