LAFAYETTE — If the Louisiana IceGators wanted a practice exam before playoff hockey, coach Drew Omicioli is glad the three questions will be tough ones.
The IceGators will close the regular season this weekend with a home stretch consisting of a Thursday night meeting with Mississippi and a pair of games against Knoxville on Friday and Saturday. All the games will start at 7:05 p.m. at the Cajundome.
“This will be a great test for us,” Omicioli said. “Knoxville with (goalie) Bryan Hince having an unbelievable performance last season — they knocked us out of the playoffs and ended up winning the championship. This will get our guys prepared for playoff hockey. One mistake could cost you the game. (The Ice Bears) sit and wait for mistakes, but they are also physical.”
Hince is having another solid season for the Ice Bears. He ranks second in the league with a 2.35 goals against average in 29 games.
Before the Gators face Knoxville, Mississippi will provide the first obstacle. Louisiana (24-25-4) is currently the eighth seed, but the Gators are one point behind Macon and two behind Huntsville. Movement in either half of the standings could change the first-round playoff opponent on a nightly basis leading up to the final verdict this weekend.
“Playing three games in three nights going into the playoffs is not easy,” Omicioli said. “But with Mississippi being a potential playoff opponent, we want to see what they bring in there as far as lineup combinations. That is definitely a positive.”
As the Gators round out their playoff roster, one addition is Anton Lennartsson, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound winger who played 44 games for the Macon Mayhem and had 12 points (three goals, nine assists).
“We wanted to bring a big power forward to go with guys like Johnny Daniels, Tyler Prendergast and Massimo Lumacchia,” Omicioli said. “The best part is our smaller guys play like they are 6-5. I think our overall talent is meshing now with guys like Jake Hauswirth and Jeremy Boyer. It’s a good mix of pure goal scorers and hard workers.”
The workload in the net heading into the playoffs will be split between goalies Adam Courchaine and Brad Barone. Both have been called up to the ECHL at various points, and Courchaine also had to recover from a concussion earlier this season that kept him out of a handful of games
“Both of them can guide us to a championship,” Omicioli said. “You need a duo. They push each other, and we get the best out of both of them. In the playoffs, a best-of-3 series depends so much on goaltending. No matter what we do this weekend, we are going to have a tough opponent come Game 1 of the playoffs.”