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 Weekly: Ontario Reigning Point-Streaks, Dupont Guiding Norfolk, Parks is Peoria New Hope

AHL

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-While all the Pacific teams are over .500, the Ontario Reign will need to keep digging deeper in order to keep up with the rest of the division. Lucky for them, however, they have two of the hottest scorers in the league right now. Both Mike Amadio and Jonny Brodzinski are on big points streak that rank in the top-10 for the season, with Amadio’s 16-game point streak (8g, 19a) being the longest in the AHL so far. Brodzinski isn’t a slouch, however, with a nine-game streak (6g, 8a) which is tied for 7th longest this season going into Monday’s games.

-If they’re not careful, the Springfield Thunderbirds could be a dark horse to climb up the standings and snag one of the final playoff spot in the Atlantic. The Thunderbirds are winners of seven of their last 11, including three straight heading into the new week. With their goaltending being somewhat shaky on the year, they’ll need to get a lot more support for Samuel Montembeault. While Curtis Valk is ahead in the team points, the real test will be to see how the likes of Dryden Hunt and Anthony Greco respond to a possible late-season push for the team to help support Valk and Alexandre Grenier.

ECHL

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-Despite being on a bad team, Brodie Dupont is making the most of his time in Norfolk. With 39 points in 37 games, the former New York Rangers’ prospect leads the team in points and is quietly 8th in the league. While the Admirals could make a late-season push for the playoffs, you have to wonder if someone like Dupont will be dangled out there at the trade deadline to get some prospects back and build into the future with that team. Dupont was traded last year to Greenville, only to return in the off-season.

-Since returning to Reading on December 28th, John Muse has continued his solid play for the Royals. Muse is 7-1-0 since returning, pushing his record to 13-4-1 on the season, while also ranking second amongst goalies in GAA and save percentage. The 2012 Kelly Cup Playoff MVP is coming back to the ECHL full-time for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign in Florida.

SPHL

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-It was a helluva holiday season for the Peoria Rivermen, who lost both goalies– Eric Levine and Storm Phaneuf to season-ending injuries over the holidays. Because of that, Tyler Parks has been thrown into the starting role, which has led him to an 8-2-0 record on the season and winning six of his last seven. Luckily, the Rivermen do have a solid goalie pipeline at their fingertips, which has come in handy in a situation like this. They continue to be four points behind Pensacola for top spot in the league with two games in hand.

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.