Game 1: Mississippi RiverKings (0-0-0) vs. Louisiana IceGators (0-0-0)
7:05 p.m., Landers Center, Southaven, Mississippi
The Mississippi RiverKings open their 24th season of hockey in the Mid-South, and fifth in the SPHL, as they play host to the Louisiana IceGators. It is the first of nine head-to-head matches between Mississippi and Louisiana this season. The RiverKings conclude the opening weekend with their first trip to Macon to face the newest SPHL franchise, Macon Mayhem.
Last season the Louisiana IceGators finished in sixth place in the SPHL with a 27-21-8 record, giving them 62 points. In the playoffs, the IceGators pulled off a big upset by knocking off the regular-season points champion Peoria Rivermen (75 points), in the first round by winning two games to one. In the second round, the IceGators were defeated by the Knoxville Ice Bears in two games.
The RiverKings earned the four seed heading into the 2015 President’s Cup Playoffs, finishing with 68 points and a 33-21-2 record. Only Peoria finished the season with more wins (36) than the RiverKings’ 33 wins. In the first round the RiverKings matched up with the Pensacola Ice Flyers and knocked off the two-time defending champions in three games, winning twice in Pensacola. They advanced directly to the President’s Cup Finals, where they lost to Knoxville in two games.
RiverKings Pregame at 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Stretch Internet Radio
Streaming: Pay-to-watch video on SPHL Live
The league went through some minor changes during the summer, adding one team for this year and adjusting some on-ice rules to line up more with the NHL, AHL and ECHL. This season the SPHL will go with nine teams, keeping the eight from last season and adding the Macon Mayhem in Macon, Georgia. With the additional team, the SPHL has revised its playoff format to include eight teams in the playoffs.
On the ice, the league has adopted hybrid icing, following the lead of the NHL, AHL and ECHL. As opposed to no-touch icing, hybrid icing essentially becomes a race to the faceoff dots in the defending zone. Icing will be called in a typical icing situation only if a player from the defending team reaches the dot before a player from the attacking team.
The SPHL also adopted new faceoff rules, making the defending team player place their stick on the ice before the attacking team. The league also added additional penalties for goaltenders who intentionally remove the net or a piece of equipment to prevent a scoring opportunity.
Scouting the IceGators
The IceGators enter the season with 18 players on their roster, including nine returning players from last season. The nine returning players combined to play 233 games for the IceGators last season and had a total of 167 points. Only five of the returning nine were with Louisiana for the majority of the season, with the other four joining late in the season to help the IceGators advance to the second round of the President’s Cup Playoffs.
Among returners, Jake Hauswirth (21g, 22a) and Chris Wilson (18g, 25a) are the leading scorers with 43 points each. Hauswirth had 43 points in just 37 games.
The IceGators have a familiar face in net, as Adam Courchaine takes over for Louisiana. He was acquired from the RiverKings in an offseason trade that brought Ben Rubin to Mississippi. In 31 games last year for the RiverKings, Courchaine was 14-13-2 with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. Joining Courchaine is rookie Jonah Imoo, who played with the Merritt Centennials in the BCHL in 2014-15.
The RiverKings and IceGators met 11 times in the 2014-15 regular season, with the RiverKings winning seven of the 11 matches (7-4-0). They only played four of the 11 at the Landers Center, and in those games the RiverKings won three of four, outscoring Louisiana 13-7. Only one of the 11 games went past regulation, and the RiverKings won that one in a shootout, 4-3, Dec. 26.
Among returning players for the IceGators, Chris Wilson (3g, 4a) and Luke Kasteel (1g, 6a) were the leading scorers against the RiverKings last season with seven points each. Neither of the goalies this season for Louisiana played against Mississippi last season.
For the RiverKings, Leo Thomas is the leading scorer among returning players against Louisiana. In 2014-15 he had 9 points (4g, 5a) and a plus-6 rating in 11 games against the IceGators. Devein Mantha had seven points (4g, 3a) against Louisiana.
In net, Peter Di Salvo went 4-1-0 in six appearances against the IceGators and he had a 2.28 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
Last season Louisiana finished with the SPHL’s top power play unit. They converted on 20.0% of their power plays, going 38-for-190. Despite having the best power-play percentage, Louisiana was behind three teams in power-play goals as the IceGators’ 190 power plays was sixth in the league. Their power play dipped off a bit on the road, where they went 15-for-91 (16.5%), which was fourth in the league. Against the RiverKings, Louisiana was 5-for-28 (17.9%).
The RiverKings finished the 2014-15 regular season seventh in the league on the power play at 14.3% (32-for-217). They were better at home, going 20-for-125 (16.0%). Against the IceGators, the RiverKings power play converted on 14.7% (5-of-34) of their chances.
The Louisiana penalty kill was also strong, finishing above the league average in the regular season. The IceGators successfully killed 84.0% (189-of-225) of opponent’s power play chances, which was third in the league. Their penalty kill was even better away from the Cajundome, stopping 84.9% of power plays. Their three shorthanded goals were tied for the fewest in the league.
The RiverKings penalty kill was a strength of the team last season, finishing second in the SPHL at 84.6%. They allowed just 28 opposing power-play goals, the fewest in the league, in 182 shorthanded situations, also the fewest in the league. They were 77-for-91 (84.6%) both at home and on the road. The RiverKings scored five shorthanded goals, which was fourth in the SPHL.