What We Learned About the SPHL Challenge Round Selection Show

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When the SPHL came up with their Challenge Round before their season, it created a lot of buzz about the idea overall and how it could be pulled off. On Sunday night, it was put to the task and, honestly, went off with flying colors. The concept, the broadcast, the production– in my eyes– all great and a great way for the SPHL to really put themselves out there as a league.

They broadcast opened with a hot crowd in Huntsville while the Challenge Round montage began. It was a welcome sight to see  Eli Gold and Terry Crisp as MCs, two guys who have a history of hockey, especially with Gold being the play-by-play guy for the Birmingham Bulls– which means he’s seen the league in a big way this season. Gold also worked for the Nashville Predators alongside Crisp– who is still with the team.

Gold made sure to talk about history of the challenge round in hockey in other countries like Switzerland and Austria, while also putting over the SPHL in creating a widespread buzz of this concept across the North America sporting landscape. Gold also mentioned how game-changing the SPHL has been by starting three-on-three OT to North American hockey.

Onto the actual picks by the teams. Gold explained some of the reasoning that teams could have for picks and then went off to say how a lot of teams didn’t have their real home-ice due to scheduling. It went then into  a video montage of what the league is about for outliers who may be tuning into the show.

Now– the picks. Peoria as the first seed was first pick and they kept it a 1/8 match-up picking the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. This is an interesting match-up because neither team will have their home-ice. Roanoke will play at Liberty University, while Peoria will have to go to their practice rink. Second pick, the Macon Mayhem decided to switch it up a bit, as they will play the sixth seeded Evansville Thunderbolts, believing in a better match-up against them than Mississippi, while the third seed Pensacola went with the fifth seed Knoxville Ice Bears, leaving Huntsville with the seventh seed Mississippi.

Overall…not too much over-the-top as some would have predicted, but it did cause for a bit of drama when it came to who would pick who and why. The idea is a solid one and the broadcast was a nice added touch to help those who didn’t know much about the SPHL going into it.

This could get some more eyes on the league if there are some upsets in this first round. It always creates that mentality of the top-ranked team having to really hold serve and justify their pick, while the underdog can have the feeling of a team picking them because they were thought to be weak, but now have to turn the tables to make it right.

MINOR LEAGUE MONDAY: P-Bruins Rolling, Williams Pride of the Monarchs, DeLaVergne is All or Nothing

AHL

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-The streaky team of the week is the Providence Bruins, who have won their last seven games. After getting embarrassed 8-2 by Charlotte on November 25th, the P-Bruins haven’t lost and have won four of the seven game in extra time. While Kenny Agostino hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm that got him the MVP last year, Austin Czarnik has been picked up the scoring with 21 goals in 18 games. There’s a tough patch for the P-Bruins, who won’t play on home ice until January 5th as they go on an eight-game road swing.

-Despite being minus-six in the goal differential category, the Texas Stars have still managed to be one of the hotter teams in the Western Conference. With eight wins in their last ten, including their current three-game winning streak, the Stars are looking to add a little more punch to their game. However, they’ve taken a hit with Jason Dickinson getting called up to the NHL. While Travis Morin and Curtis McKenzie hold down the fort, the Stars will need to get more consistent secondary help, as well as some key stops from their goaltending. Rookie Landon Bow has been solid with 10-4-0 record, but the hope is that he’ll improve on his 2.65 GAA as the season goes on and he continues to adjust.

ECHL

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-Charles Williams is a great story. The rookie goalie from Manchester has been a great addition to the every day line-up, leading the ECHL in GAA (1.98) and save percentage (.936) while being tied for second in wins (10) . This is after he had an amazing season at Canisius College (21-7-5, 1.82, .949) after transferring from Ferris State due to lack of playing time. With a chance to get playing time, Williams got into the top-10 in voting for the Hobey Baker Award and was Canisius College men’s player of the year. Williams went a perfect 3-0-0 when he joined the Monarchs at the end of last season.

-While he hasn’t gotten any weekly or monthly awards, Michael Joly out of Colorado should be getting plenty of recognition. Sure, he’s a Cy Young nominee (many more goals than assists)– but his 19 goals and six power play goals lead the league. With the help of Matt Register and Drayson Bowman, Joly and the Eagles are in prime position to defend their Kelly Cup title in the franchise’s last season in the ECHL.

SPHL

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-Mike DeLaVergne is an interesting subject. He leads the SPHL in GAA (1.98) and save percentage (.944), as well as being undefeated in regulation– but in his two losses he’s given up three and five goals a piece, but in his wins– it’s one or less. DeLaVergne is really an all-or-nothing goalie. It will help the Huntsville Havoc for DeLaVergne to push Keegan Asmundson and maybe get more time between the nets. For a team in the middle of the standing– it’ll probably come down to the goaltending to get them into a better spot in the playoffs.