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.

Maryland Pro/Developmental Report: 02.20.18

A couple of big moves since our last Maryland Developmental Update. Whether it be first call-ups or first goals, it’s been an eventful almost three months for the Maryland hockey prospects. We’ll start off first with the call-up:

SPHL/ECHL

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Mike Chen, Knoxville Ice Bears/South Carolina Stingrays (Rockville): 6g, 19a, +6 (with Knoxville): A tremendous start to his career, Chen earned his first call-up to the ECHL on Monday. With 25 points in 40 games, Chen led all rookie defensemen in points, while also being third in points for Knoxville and second on the team in power play scoring with 11 points (3g, 8a) with the extra man.

AHL

Sam Anas, Iowa Wild (Potomac): 18g, 22a, 4 GWG: Talk about a boost in the last two months, Anas has been fantastic. After a ten-game points-streak and six-game goal-scoring streak in December, Anas has continued through to be one of the top contributors in Iowa’s line-up. With a playoff push coming up and a bigger role, expect Anas to really show up in a big way for Derek Lalonde’s bunch.

Nick Ellis, Bakersfield Condors (Millersville): 8-9-2, 3.23 GAA, .897 Sv%: Rookie woes have gotten to Ellis after a hot start. Though he got called up to Edmonton, he saw no playing time and was returned to Bakersfield, where Laurent Brossoit has gotten a hefty share of starts since. With Brossoit called up, Ellis could be seeing more playing time and hopefully get his first win since January 6th.

ECHL

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Jack Burton, Indy Fuel (Reisterstown): 2g, 6a, 47 PIMs: He may not light the lamp or burn up the scoresheet as often as he’d like, the responsibility of Burton in his own end may be a trademark going forward. At 6’3 and 210, Burton may need to be a little bulkier in order to be a lockdown defenseman, but that very well could come with time and seasoning.

Nick Sorkin, Wheeling Nailers (Rockville): 6g, 37a, +9: Sorkin has settled into the set-up role for Cody Wydo, Reid Gardiner, and Cam Brown. Not just on his team, but Sorkin’s 37 assists rank fifth in the ECHL. Sorkin also hit a personal milestone, getting his 100th professional point in his 107th game on February 12th.

Eric Sweetman, Idaho Steelheads (Woodbine): 4g, 14a, +13: Another defenseman who is finding his footing, Sweetman has gotten better as the season has gone along. Despite his 5’11 frame, Sweetman has come into his own with 12 of his 18 points (4g, 8a) coming in the 2018 calendar year.

OHL

Adam Varga, Mississauga Steelheads (Bel Air): 0g, 4a, -8: With some scratches to his name, Varga is really getting a taste of the OHL life at 16-years old. One bright spot is that Varga did get his first OHL goal on Monday, which was his second game back from over a month being out of the line-up. Here’s hoping the stretch run will help the Bel-Air prospect going into his draft year next year.

USNTDP

Patrick Giles, US National Development Program (Chevy Chase): 7g, 6a, +4: Though he was held without a point in the U17 Five Nations Cup, which the US did win, Giles did have a couple chances here and there during the tournament. A bit of a slide since starting off the new year with four points in four games (2g, 2a), the draft eligible Marylander still has plenty of time to up his stock before going off to Boston College.

NCAA

Jerad Rosburg, Michigan State (Clarksville): 0g, 8a, 54 PIMs

Matt McArdle, Lake Superior State (Odenton): 0g, 2a, 25 PIMs

Colin O’Neill, U-Mass Lowell (Odenton): 3g, 11a, 2 SHG

Jason O’Neill, Providence (Odenton): 0g, 8a, E

Bruce Racine, Colgate (Bethesda): 1-3-1, 3.57 GAA, .898 Sv%

Minor League Weekly: Puempel Powering Griffins, LaValle-Smotherman on Fire, SPHL MVP Contenders

AHL

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Photo by Icon Sportswire

-It’s taken the Grand Rapids Griffins a while to get going, but with points in eight of their last ten games– they’ve regained their championship form. A lot of that success is due in part to the play of Matt Puempel, who’s in the midst of a nine-game point-streak (6g 7a), while having 40 points in 35 games with the Griffins and putting Puempel fourth in the AHL in scoring. This season is looking to be Puempel’s best in the AHL. With 43 points (19g, 24a) already this season, Puempel is only five points away from tying his AHL high, which he set in his rookie season of 2013-14 with the Binghamton Senators.

-When it comes to Thatcher Demko, it’s a matter of when he’ll get the full-time call-up to the Vancouver Canucks. His play this season has been stellar (17-7-5, 2.27 GAA, .929 Sv%) and will give the Canucks an interesting move late in their season– whether to call him up to get some NHL playing time, as he’ll luckily move into that role next season– or will they allow him to stay with Utica for the rest of the season and get a taste of a playoff run??

ECHL

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-Since the turning of the calendar, Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman has turned on his game big time with 11g, 12a in 14 games in 2018. The Monarchs forward has been on quite the roll with multi-point games in six of his last season, which has quietly put him in second spot for league leaders in points (52) and second in the league in goals (26). Not bad for a guy getting back into the North American game full-time after traveling around Europe from 2011 until towards the end of the 2016-17 season.

-There might be a chip in Joe Cannata’s shoulder because his play right now is really telling the Colorado Avalanche he wants to be promoted. The minor-league vet is 16-2-1 with a 2.13 GAA and .934 Sv%, which puts him 2nd and 1st respectively in the league. After years of being in the AHL– whether it being the veteran back-up or the stop-gap veteran– he’s in the ECHL full-time for the first time since 2014-15. With a championship team in front of him, he could be marking his way for when the Eagles move up to the AHL next season.

SPHL

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-While Jake Hauswirth has had a great season– it’s going to be hard-pressed for him to go ahead and win the MVP on a non-playoff team. For me, Berkley Scott could be the front-runner, especially with the month he just had in January (9g, 7a)–which earned him Player of the Month honors. Tomas Shall should also get some kind of recognition for the year he’s had with Evansville thus far with a 14-2-2 record, while ranking top-five in GAA and save percentage.