LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana IceGators’ first home test will not be a swim at the shallow end of the Southern Professional Hockey League pool.
Twenty years after their Caundome debut, the Gators open the home portion of this season’s schedule Thursday at 7:05 p.m. against the Peoria Rivermen — the team the IceGators eliminated from the SPHL playoffs last season.
The current squads enter the opener of the three-game series with Louisiana at 1-1 and Peoria at 1-2. However, there are still lingering marks from previous regular-season and playoff meetings.
“There is a definite dislike from the players’ standpoint, the coaches’ standpoint and probably all the way through the ownership,” IceGators coach Drew Omicioli said. “It’s one of those things where you look forward to playing a team like this, and I’m happy that we open up the home season (against them). I feel I took their best player, and I’m sure they feel like they took our best player.”
Those changes involved former IceGators center Jake Trask going to the Rivermen, and center Alex Hudson, who had 39 points (13 goals and 26 assists) in 52 games for Peoria last season heading south. Hudson had a first-hand view of the playoff series last season that is easy for the Rivermen to remember.
“It was a series that Peoria felt they should have won, and it’s something that I know they are holding on to for motivation. It will be good and be physical. When you get that opportunity to hit someone or take a shot at someone you know, it’s definitely fun.”
Within that energized environment, Hudson will see some familiar moves from the opponents, along with a handful of new surprises.
“It gives you a sense of comfort since you know what is coming at you and what the opposing team is capable of,” he said. “But I know a lot of guys train hard in the summer, so there will be a faster pace and I look forward to seeing the level of improvement in the players’ games.”
Peoria is coming off a 2-1 loss to the Mississippi RiverKings. Trask scored the lone goal for the Rivermen when he took a pass from winger Alec Hagaman and converted the chance. Center Tim Hall has scored a pair of goals for Peoria. Winger Mike Gurtler has registered a goal and an assist.
“This week is a big one ... they are going to come hard,” IceGators center Jake Hauswirth said. “We need to be able to match it, weather the storm and come right back at them.”
The Rivermen will be shorthanded because of a three-game suspension handed down to Peoria winger Dan Bremner. He received a major penalty and a game misconduct for elbowing when the Rivermen faced Pensacola on Oct. 24. Bremner’s designation as a repeat offender led to the three-game penalty.
“They have one man down for the first two games and hopefully we can use that to our advantage by trying to be physical right off the bat,” IceGator wing Tyler Barr said. “It’s mental preparation right now. We have kind of been struggling with it in the first period the last two games. We have to play our systems, and if we come out with intensity, I don’t think we will have a problem.”
The IceGators fell behind early against Pensacola in their last contest before dropping a 5-4 decision despite a late comeback effort.
“We have to find a way to start the game the way we are finishing,” Omicioli said.