The reason the Peoria Rivermen are firmly entrenched in the top spot of the Southern Professional Hockey League is basic, according to Louisiana IceGators coach Drew Omicioli.
“They are very skilled and well-coached,” Omicioli said. “They are getting contributions from their entire roster. That is the biggest thing for any team and they have done that better than anybody.”
That has equaled a 27-6-3 record for the Rivermen — the opponent that is awaiting the IceGators as they close out an 11-game road trip with a trio of games in Peoria, Illinois, this weekend. The teams will meet on Friday and Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. before the Sunday finale at 3:05 p.m.
As Peoria has put itself in prime position by having four of the top 15 point scorers in the league, the Gators (14-17-3) have revved up their offense during the past few weeks thanks to a scoring burst from both Jake Hauswirth and Alex Hudson.
Hauswirth has 12 goals and 11 assists, with much of that damage coming during the last month.
“Some of the guys we rely on have responded and picked up their games,” Omicioli said. “Our biggest thing has been execution. Against a team of this caliber, we have to take advantage of turnovers and the opportunities they allow. They don’t give up a ton, but we feel our talent is comparable to theirs.”
The Gators have posted a 4-4 mark through the first eight games of their trip, the most recent result being a 3-1 win at Columbus on Sunday.
“We have to go out there and battle,” Omicioli said. “We can’t have that six or 10-minute lull that we had in some of these games where we score six versus Huntsville and then we give up six the following night.”
The Gators will enter the contests with a couple of roster changes. Goalie Brad Barone was loaned to Florida of the ECHL. Adam Courchaine will handle the No. 1 duties. Andy DiCristofaro has signed a contract to fill the other goalie spot.
Meanwhile, defenseman Nicholas Kuqali was loaned to Adirondack of the ECHL. Winger Eric Witzel signed a contract to take that roster spot. Overall, the Gators will play the first two games of the series a man down, as Tyler Barr serves the last two of a five-game suspension.
Center Adam Stewart has 16 goals for Peoria. Former IceGator Chris Wilson has 14 goals and 19 assists to lead the Rivermen with 33 points. Goalie Kyle Rank is second in the league with a 2.08 goals against average.
“This is a good way to end the trip,” Omicioli said. “We are playing the No. 1 team. If we can win games, we can carry that over into going back home.”