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.

Thunderbolts Looking to Spark Attendance with Free Tickets

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The Evansville Thunderbolts are employing an interesting strategy for their first playoff game. The team, which is 10th in the 10-team SPHL in attendance, is offering free admission to their first playoff game.

Heading into their last weekend, Evansville will have the sixth or seventh spot– seventh if Mississippi wins out and Evansville loses out; though Evansville can sneak up to fifth if they win out and Knoxville loses out. Of course, with the new playoff format– the Thunderbolts are pretty much sitting ducks for the top three teams in the whole Pick-Your-Poison playoff system the SPHL has.

However, the question is does this sully the SPHL if teams need to have free admission to their first playoff game?? Sure, it’s “Single A” hockey, but it’s still a business. You have to think that other teams don’t think highly of a team in the playoffs just giving away their seats to people and not turning a profit. It cuts into the team and possibly the league’s bottom line.

That said, it could also be something that creates fans in an area that needs to get back to their glory days in the ECHL by putting in– at the worst point– over 4,000 people on average with over 5,400 at it’s peak. You can believe that there are still people sour over the whole situation Ron Geary had in moving the team to Owensboro and then eventually Jacksonville when Owensboro didn’t work out.

Even if it isn’t the old Icemen fans coming back to see this new team, playoff hockey is a chance to create new fans. People also say that they became a bigger fan of the game when they attended it live and experienced the speed and excitement of the game. Now, double that when it comes to the playoffs and how that could play out and you may have new ticket holders after that experience.

It doesn’t look good on the surface, sure– but at the same time, it’s pretty ingenious. Giving away tickets to this franchise’s first playoff appearance after finishing dead last in their inaugural season in 2016-17 could be a big way to get some buzz around the team and turn people into supporters. It allows some families who may not be able to afford a playoff game a chance to experience it with their kids. It creates some kind of community togetherness, also– maybe getting the city to rally behind this team after their other one was ripped from them.

The real question is how it will actually play out and how much they’ll be able retain after the first playoff game is done. That falls on the marketing and promotion departments in a big way to help maintain it all.

Good luck, Thunderbolts– make this opportunity count.

TEPID TAKE: Pick Your Playoff Opponent Works….in the SPHL

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With all the heavy hitters having weighed in for their takes right off the bat, so with it settling down, it’s time for “ya boy” to step in– here’s my take on this whole idea the SPHL has on higher seeded teams picking their playoff opponent.

This wouldn’t working in the NHL. This wouldn’t work in the AHL. This wouldn’t work in the ECHL. This wouldn’t work in Major Junior. This might work in NCAA. But it definitely works in the SPHL.

The main reason this is perfect is because regardless of who is picked, there’s going to be some backstory to the whole thing. There will be some kind of rivalry, there will be some history from the season behind it– so they don’t need the whole thing of playing within a division or even conference. There’s not enough for either, so it’s evenly proportioned out.

Another reason is that it feeds some kind of fire in everyone. If the #1 seed picks the #5 seed because they have a better record than the #8 seed, then the #1 has to prove that the regular season wasn’t a fluke. More over, the #5 is going to have fire behind them because of the fact that now they feel that this top seed doesn’t think much of them and will want to beat the crap out of them. Considering the series are shorter, as well, that gives little time to adjust– making that first game all the more crucial.

In the NHL or other leagues, the playoffs are a marathon unlike the SPHL– where’s it’s a sprint. Granted, we’ve seen that the lowest seeded teams doesn’t mean they’re the easiest to pick– last year’s Nashville Predators or the 2010 LA Kings showed that. But with other leagues, the stress in the regular season is divisional and conference play; mainly because the NHL thought that’s what people wanted….because for a time they did, especially when they had three divisions and the Southeast would often have just one team in there and they’d be the 3rd seed because they won the division. Put into practice, NHL fans (not surprisingly) hated the playoff format.

If the NHL wanted to do something this drastic– top-16 teams get in the playoffs. To hell with divisions, to hell with conferences– the top-16 on points get in and the hell with the rest. It would never fly with the owners, especially of the middling teams, but it’s the only way for the NHL to really change something.

The only place this would really work out is the NCAA, where the conferences are smaller in size, but I don’t know if the logistics are something the schools would want to deal with or if it’s something they’d have to deal with.

Back to the SPHL, this whole scenario is a smart move from this, with the exception of Peoria, geographically plotted out league. It’s a way to not only keep their fans happy in that every game could be against a possible first round opponent, no matter how good or bad you are– but it gets the league’s name out there for something other than Scott Darling’s career or some fighting shenanigans. Commissioner Jim Combs and the owners of the SPHL should be commended for this. How it plays out– that’s another story for another time. The first step is to get people talking and as we get into March and the end of the season, people will be talking again about this and then the strategy will play out.

Though, I’m sure the coaches and GMs are going to hate as it gets closer because the questions from the press will be the same thing about how they’re going about it or how they plan to play to get into a better seeding.