PREVIEW: PLAYOFF HOCKEY RETURNS TO PEORIA ON WEDNESDAY
|Wed, Mar. 26||7:15 pm CST||Vs. Columbus||CD Country 107.9 FM / Live Video|
|Fri, Mar. 28||6:30 pm CST||@ Columbus|
|Sun, Mar. 30**||5:15 pm CST||Vs. Columbus|
POST-GAME JERSEY AUCTION: The Rivermen will auction off their most sought-after jerseys - the season-long white uniforms - after Wednesday's home playoff game at Carver Arena. The white sweaters, complete with navy, red and gold trimming, have been worn in more than 25 games this season and bare Peoria’s inaugural logo in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
OVERALL: The #3 Peoria Rivermen begin their first-ever quest for a President’s Cup Championship on Wednesday with first-round action against the #6 Columbus Cottonmouths. Overall, the Rivermen completed the regular season with a 30-18-8 record and earned points in eight of their last nine contests. In addition, Peoria collected a .607 points-making percentage during the regular season – best since the AHL team went .625 during the 2005-06 season.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: The Southern Professional Hockey League mandates a best-of-three series in each round of the 2014 Presidents Cup Playoffs. After Wednesday night’s contest, the Rivermen will travel to Columbus on Friday for a 6:30 p.m. CST puck drop in game two. Game three will be played in Peoria at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday if necessary. The series’ winner will take on either #2 Louisiana, #7 Knoxville, or #8 Mississippi (Surge) next week.
HISTORY BOOKS: This postseason, the Rivermen are in search of their fourth championship in franchise history. During its early years, Peoria claimed the IHL’s Turner Cup championship in both 1985 and 1991. In 2000, the ECHL Rivermen went 45-20-5 and won its only Kelly Cup title. In contrast, the Rivermen made the playoffs just three times during an eight-year stint in the American Hockey League. All three times, Peoria was knocked out in the first round by Houston. In fact, the last time the Rivermen won a first-round playoff series was in 2004 when the ECHL team defeated Atlantic City three games to one in a best-of-five sequence. Overall, this year marks the first time in three seasons that Peoria has made the postseason.
RIVERMEN VS. COLUMBUS: The Rivermen went 3-1-0 against Columbus during the regular season with three of those games being decided by just one goal. On Feb. 7 and 8, Peoria won back-to-back games at home when Kyle Rank stopped 29 of 31 shots each night en route to identical 3-2 victories. Before that, Peoria traveled to Columbus for the first time Dec. 26 and 27, where Charlie Carkin scored the game-winner in a 2-1 victory on Thursday before the Rivermen fell 5-1 the next night.
VIEW FROM COLUMBUS: The #6 Cottonmouths enter the postseason on a one-game losing streak after falling in their season finale to Huntsville, 3-2 last Saturday. Overall, Columbus finished the regular season 27-26-3 (57 points) and in a two-way tie with Knoxville, but held the tie-breaker based on wins. Offensively, Columbus was led by Matt Gingera during the regular season with 55 points (32g, 23a). In net, Andrew Loewen was a team-best 21-15-1 with a 2.70 GAA and six shutouts – second-most in the league behind Rank’s eight. Meanwhile, Loewen’s colleague, Shannon Szabados, made headlines this year as the first female player in SPHL history. Plus, Szabados is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist for Team Canada – victorious in both Vancouver (2010) and Sochi (2014).
NO PLACE LIKE HOME: By finishing the regular season in third place, Peoria earned the benefit of having home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs - and that bodes well statistically. Overall, the Rivermen finished the regular season with at least one point in each of their last 13 games at Carver Arena. In fact, the last time Peoria lost in regulation at home was Jan. 19 to Bloomington. To put that into perspective, the Rivermen did not earn points in that many consecutive games at home during its entire American Hockey League era. Additionally, Kyle Rank has not lost in regulation at home since Jan. 19 – a span of nine straight starts.
THE FINAL TOUCH?: On Sunday, Peoria added the final piece to its playoff roster when head coach Jean-Guy Trudel claimed former Bloomington Thunder scorer/tough guy Kyle Watson off waivers. In 55 games with Bloomington this year, Watson notched a team-best 13 goals and was runner-up with 162 penalty minutes.
DREAM SEASON: Rookie forward Garrett Vermeersch enjoyed a breakout first season by leading the Rivermen in goals (27), assists (30) and points (57). In fact, the 24-year old also finished the year tied with Pensacola’s Joe Caveney for the league’s rookie scoring title. Overall, the two first-year sensations ended the season tied for second in the league’s scoring race (behind Louisiana’s Shawn McNeil with 67 points) and were named to the SPHL's All-Rookie Team on Wednesday.
Individual-game tickets and playoff ticket packages are available now through the Rivermen office by calling 309-676-1040. Each game can be heard locally on CD Country 107.9 FM or online here. Fans can also follow along via the live video and audio stream at www.americaonesports.com.