Peoria , Ill. — The Louisiana IceGators, who had to fight to clinch the sixth and final SPHL playoff spot, fought back from an early two-goal deficit to knock off the top-seeded Peoria Rivermen 4-3 in overtime Saturday night, winning the quarterfinal series 2-1. Chris Wilson scored the winner at 12:10 of the extra period, assisted by Stephen Buco and Dan Cornell.
The IceGators will face the Knoxville IceBears in the President’s Cup semifinals. The first game is 6:35 p.m. Wednesday in the Cajundome.
“What a night!” IceGators coach Drew Omicioli said. “This is definitely one of the greatest hockey experiences I’ve been a part of during my career. These guys are warriors and battled until the game-winner went into the net. Peoria put up a great fight, and my hat’s off to them for an incredible series.”
The IceGators jumped to a 1-0 lead at the 2:20 mark of the opening frame when Jeremy Boyer, on a power play, went top shelf off assists from Jake Hauswirth and Shawn McNeil.
Penalties hampered the IceGators offense in the middle and latter parts of the opening period, and Peoria capitalized.
Alex Hudson scored twice in a 21/2-minute span — at 13:05 and 15:28 — to put the Rivermen ahead 2-1. A Steve Morra power-play goal at 16:20 gave the Rivermen a 3-1 lead going into the first intermission.
The IceGators launched their comeback in the second. Buco scored off assists from Wilson and Cornell at the 5:57 mark to cut the Louisiana deficit to a single goal. McNeil tied the score with 11 seconds left in the period off assists from Buco and Wilson.
“After the first period, we stayed positive and kept it together,” Omicioli said. “We took over the game in the second period.”
The defense and goaltender Scott Diebold kept the IceGators in the game during the scoreless third period. Diebold stopped 10 shots in the final frame to help Louisiana force overtime. In all, Diebold stopped 36 of 39 shots.
Last season, the IceBears eliminated the IceGators from the playoffs in a two-game sweep in the opening round. This season, Louisiana played Knoxville six times during the season, going 2-3-1 in those contests. Four of the IceGators’ final seven regular-season games came against the IceBears.