By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
The SPHL President’s Cup Challenge Round concluded Sunday night and now the semifinals are set. The Knoxville Ice Bears, having wrapped up their opening round series on Saturday against Macon, sat back and awaited Sunday’s results to see who and where their next opponent would be.
With Birmingham shutting out Fayetteville and Huntsville holding off Pensacola, Knoxville will head to Huntsville on Thursday night for game one of the semifinal series. Game two is scheduled for Saturday night at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum. If game three is needed it will be Monday night back in Alabama.
Birmingham, the No. 2 seed in the postseason, will host Roanoke in the other semifinal series. Roanoke is coming off an upset sweep of regular season champ Peoria.
It was a busy sports weekend with the Orange and White Game, Tiger Woods winning the Masters and the NBA Playoffs getting underway so here are some notes on Knoxville’s upcoming series.
How did Knoxville get here?
The Ice Bears entered the postseason as the No. 4 seed in the SPHL Playoffs. It’s the highest regular season finish for Knoxville in six years. With the top three teams in the league selecting their first round opponents from the pool of seeds 5-8 in the Challenge Round, Knoxville was left to host the one team that went unselected, sixth-seeded Macon.
Knoxville took game one at home last Friday 3-1 before sweeping the series with a 3-2 win on the road Saturday night.
Earlier in the season Knoxville’s then-leading scorer Danny Cesarz was traded to the Quad City Storm for forward Mitchell Mueller. Cesarz never played a game for Quad City before being traded to Macon.
Ironically in Saturday’s game two win, Mueller scored Knoxville’s first goal with a shorthanded tally in the first period, then scored the equalizer in the third before assisting on Chandler Madry’s game-winner with 1:33 remaining.
Rookie goalie Hayden Stewart, who spent the last month of the season on the IR before being activated for the regular season finally, stopped 61 of 64 shots in two games last weekend.
How does Knoxville matchup against its next opponent?
The Ice Bears face the defending President’s Cup champion Huntsville Havoc in the semifinals. The Havoc finished third in the regular season and knocked off Pensacola in a deciding game three on Sunday night to advance.
The two teams met six times in the regular season with Huntsville winning four of them. The Ice Bears won at Huntsville 5-3 in the first meeting on November 22 and beat the Havoc at home 4-1 on March 24 in the sixth and final meeting of the season. Huntsville won all four meetings in between, outscoring Knoxville 17-3 in that span, including two shutouts.
What is the Ice Bears’ championship history?
No team in the SPHL has won more President’s Cups than Knoxville, which has four, most recently in 2015. Pensacola is second with three.
The Ice Bears upset second-seeded Columbus in the first round back in that 2015 run. They booked a trip to the finals with a double overtime win over Louisiana before clinching the cup by sweeping Mississippi.
Since then, Knoxville suffered back-to-back first round losses in 2016 and ’17. Jeff Carr was then named Knoxville’s newest Head Coach. In his first season Carr led the Ice Bears to a semifinal appearance last year before falling to Peoria. This year he’ll look to take his team further.
Knoxville semifinal schedule versus Huntsville:
· Thursday, April 18, 2019 at Huntsville @ 8 PM EST – Von Braun Center
· Saturday, April 20, 2019 in Knoxville @ 7:35 PM EST – Knoxville Civic Coliseum
· Monday, April 22, 2019 at Huntsville @ 8 PM EST – Von Braun Center (if necessary)