LAFAYETTE — After making four round trips to Southaven, Mississippi, this season, the Louisiana IceGators are looking for the fifth time to be their last.
That outcome would mean one road trip and a corresponding return home in a best-of-three Southern Professional Hockey League playoff series between the IceGators and the Mississippi RiverKings that starts at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at the Landers Center.
The second game is scheduled at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at the Cajundome. If Game 3 is necessary, it would be in Mississippi at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.
The notion that the intensity of this trip will mirror the others lasted a couple of seconds in Gators coach Drew Omicioli’s thought process.
“We are treating it like any other game as professionals, but you can’t eliminate the sense of desperation in the playoffs,” Omicioli said. “If you don’t have that, then you are typically not at this level. These are difficult teams that we will have to play. We all know we can beat them, but if we don’t show up, we will get beat.”
The IceGators have gone 8-2-1 against the RiverKings. But that regular-season record will have little bearing on the upcoming series.
“We had their number in the regular season, but unfortunately all that has been washed away,” Omicioli said. “Both teams are capable of getting two wins.”
Winger Linden Bahm is the leading goal-scorer for the RiverKings, having registered 22 goals in 56 games. Mississippi has also received a boost offensively with the recent return of centers Leo Thomas and Devin Mantha, who both returned off loan to ECHL teams.
“(The RiverKings) have a healthy blend of skill, grit and leadership,” Omicioli said. “Having guys like Leo Thomas and (goalie) Peter Di Salvo ... they have beefed up.”
The Gators will call on Brad Barone at goalkeeper in Game 1. Barone has an 11-10-1 record with a 2.43 goals against average. He was the Easton Player of the Week for the two wins last week, and his 45 and 26 saves helped the Gators climb from the eighth to the sixth seed.
Barone is one of many Gators who came on board throughout the season, as a flurry of call-ups, injuries and suspensions forced Louisiana to look for depth and new starters when needed.
One of those players is center Zac Frischmon, who has chipped in 28 points (14 goals and 14 assists in 30 games).
“Frischmon has fit into our system very well,” Omicioli said. “He makes plays, and he doesn’t get too high or too low.”
That relaxed routine has served the IceGators well on the road. They notched 14 road wins, second to Peoria’s 20-6-2 mark.
“When you get rest at the hotel and then you have breakfast and a good stretch and a skate before you put your gear up, I think that routine has helped our guys out,” Omicioli said.