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: Roadrunners Setting Pace, Thunder Cracking in ECHL, Trask Getting Mayhem Going

AHL

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-Unlike their parent affiliate, the Tucson Roadrunners have been utterly successful this season, getting off to a 5-1-1 start to the young season. Seventeen of the 24 players who have played a game this year have a goal on the season, while Dylan Strome leads the team with 10 points (1g, 9a). Three of the top-five in team scoring are rookies with Strome, Nick Merkley, and Kyle Capobianco. While Adin Hill and Marek Langhamer have played well, rookie Hunter Miska definitely is dealing with the pro learning curve, posting a 3-0-0 record, but a dismal 4.02 GAA and .884 Sv%.

-In his third full pro season, Lehigh Valley Phantom Danick Martel is priming himself for a breakout year. In only 10 games so far, Martel has 10 goals (half of his total all of last year) and is second in league scoring with 13 points. With the help of rookie Mike Vecchione, as well a veterans Phil Varone and Greg Carey, the Phantoms are off to their best start (7-2-0-1) since 2007-08 when they started 8-1-1. Both Alex Lyon and Dustin Tokarski have played well in their appearance, though Lyon seems to be the horse leading the way for Lehigh Valley.

ECHL

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-The first Marvel game happened this weekend and the jerseys were nothing sure of spectacular. The Worcester Railers, as the Incredible Hulk, defeated the Utah Grizzlies, as Thor, 4-1 in the first game of the branded era. The win gave the Railers their third on the season in five games, placing them third in the North Division. The loss put the Grizzlies at 3-5-0 on the season, putting them next to last in the difficult Mountain Division.

-Speaking of the Mountain Division, break up the Wichita Thunder. A team that last year was dead last in the Central Division and next to last in the league has become one of the last unbeaten teams in the league (along with the Reading Royals). After a difficult time in the AHL, Kyle Platzer has found his scoring touch with the Thunder, potting five goals and six assists for the Thunder. In net, both Joel Rumpel and Shane Starrett have three wins while being in the top-5 in the league in GAA and save percentage.

SPHL

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-Jake Trask helped the Macon Mayhem get their first win and first points of the season this weekend thanks to his four goals and two assists Friday and Saturday. Trask’s hat-trick on Friday helped the Mayhem get an overtime loss against the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs; while on Saturday, Trask got the first goal to help Macon get their first win of the season. Trask now leads the league in goals and points with four and seven respectively.

-There’s no wonder why the Peoria Rivermen are atop the SPHL. They not only have the most goals in the league, they have distributed the points, as well. 16 of the 18 rostered skaters have a point on the year, with Michael Economos not having a point because he hasn’t played a game year. However, while the offense is good, the fact they only have a plus-4 goal differential is a bit of a concern. Eric Levine and Michael Santaguida have had a lot of goal support, but will need to steal some wins if the deep forward crew has a dry run.

Minor League Monday: Jankowski Potting Points, Beast Licking Wounds, Mayhem Being Settled

While this blog encompasses the hockey landscape, there needs to one day that is dedicated to the lower levels of hockey on this blog when there isn’t a big story that going around the hockey blogosphere. And if just one day is not enough, you can head over to my friends at TheSinBin.net for your fix on almost every team in minor league hockey.

AHL

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-After being one of the last cuts of the Calgary Flames, Mark Jankowski is making every minute count while with the Stockton Heat. In his first six games, Jankowski has five goals and eight points, putting him tied in goals with another Flames cut, Garnet Hathaway and two points behind Andrew Mangiapane for total points.

-The Vegas Golden Knights goaltending situation is in peril, if you hadn’t heard. It’s in so much disarray that they have taken both of their AHL prospects out of Chicago, Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace, which leaves CJ Motte as their only rostered goalie for now. Luckily, the Wolves don’t play until Wednesday morning, so they have time to go ahead and get a back-up for Motte. Just goes to show you can never have enough goaltending depth.

ECHL

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-This is definitely not the start of the season the Brampton Beast wanted after their record-setting season last year. After getting into their first playoffs in the ECHL era of the team, the Beast are out to an 0-4-1 start. While Brandon Marino is putting up the goals (4g, 2a), the secondary scoring is still in need of a boost. There’s also a need to get more of their defense to help out rookie goalies Marcus Hogberg and Michael McNiven, as the team has given up a league high 24 goals.

-With the additions of always dangerous Mitchell Heard and Michael Kirkpatrick, the Florida Everblades are off to a blazing start. The team is a plus-9 in the goal-differential to the young season (only behind the Allen Americans) and a lot can be attributed to Heard and Kirkpatrick making a big impact, as well as rookies Steven Lorentz and Nelson Armstrong jumping in feet first for the ‘Blades.

SPHL

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-It has been a rough start to the season for the defending champion Macon Mayhem. With this past weekend yielding only one goal for the team while giving up nine in two games, it’s been the typical hangover we see from some champions time and again. The roster does have some of the returning players from that championship team, so it’s not like they aren’t used to pressure. While they can have a bit of hiccup, the short season in the SPHL makes it so they have to get back in the win column quickly before it gets too out of hand.

-Sean Bonar is building off his strong season last year with Fayetteville, but this time with the Pensacola Ice Flyers. A shutout in his first game with Pensacola was a great way to make a good first impression with his team, but the fact he’s getting goal support is even better for the SPHL’s reigning MVP and top goaltender going into a new season. It wasn’t easy, as Bonar faced 36 shots against the reigning champs in Macon, but once the defense tightens up, the Ice Flyers will surely be one of the teams to beat this SPHL season.