The Havoc celebrate after clinching a spot in the finals Saturday in Louisiana
Two more wins.
That's all that the Huntsville Havoc need to clinch the President's Cup, the trophy presented every year to the Southern Professional Hockey League champions.
The Havoc got to sip out of the cup three years ago, and they definitely want seconds. Their opponent, the Pensacola Ice Flyers came close last year - making it to the finals, only to be knocked down by Columbus.
For the Ice Flyers, this isn't a tremendous surprise. They performed well all year, going into the playoffs with a very respectable 33-18-5 record, and third place seeding. The Havoc, on the other hand, stumbled into the playoffs with an ugly 21-29-6 regular season record, that left some fans wondering if the Glenn Detulleo experiment would continue next year. The head coach knew he was under the gun, but felt confident that if he could just get his pieces to fit the puzzle, things would work out.
"There was just something about this group, they way they came together." Detulleo says. The team gelled just after Christmas, but got blown away again by injuries and call-ups. But, with the addition of Mike Gurtler from Fayetteville, Justin Cseter from UAH and the return of Justin Fox and Leland Fidler from higher leagues, things clicked again. Chemistry, the coach says, is key. "It's hard to put your finger on it. I've been around a lot of teams, this is one of the best locker rooms. These guys genuinely care about each other. It's a great team to be around."
Forward Nick Lazorko agrees. "It's all about peaking at the right time, and we came together, and we're putting points on the board, playing some really good defense, we just gotta keep up the roll.". Lazorko joined the team for the second half surge. He wasn't around for the first 22 games of the year, something he says doesn't matter. "You've got to look past the regular season. I think that's what we've been looking for - a clean slate."
As the playoffs began, no one expected the 8 seed to do anything other than serve as a warmup for the Fayetteville FireAntz. But - the Havoc stunned the top seed, sweeping them out of the post season in two games. The Louisiana Ice Gators put up a struggle, even taking one game to an unprecedented (in the SPHL anyway) triple overtime before being put down Saturday night.
But, if the Havoc were relying on the element of surprise - that's long gone now. "I think the word's gotten out." forward Mike Gurtler says. "(Pensacola) has been watching and keeping up with what's going on." Gurtler says Tuesday's game in Pensacola is an important tone setter for the short series. "It's probably the most important game. It'll set us up to come home with a chance to win the series, or have a do or die at home."
Lazorko agrees. He's praising Detulleo's plan for Pensacola, which is essentially the same as the plan for the first two rounds. "I think we bring some intensity, some aggressiveness, a lot of hitting, I think they (Pensacola)'re a little bit softer."
Regardless of who wins Tuesday, the President's Cup will be in the VBC arena Friday, ready to be presented. "It's do or die. If you don't do it now, season's done.. hockey's over." Gurtler says.
"These guys don't want the season to end." Detulleo says. Unfortunately, in the next six days, it will. Whether or not it'll end with the Havoc hoisting the President's Cup remains to be seen.
The Havoc are playing game one of the three game series in Pensacola Tuesday night. Game two is in Huntsville Friday, and game three, if needed, is in Pensacola Sunday.