For the first time since 1962, a professional sports championship belongs to Macon.
The Macon Mayhem captured the 2016-17 SPHL President’s Cup championship Sunday at the Macon Coliseum with a 2-1 against Peoria to sweep the series 2-0.
The championship comes for the Mayhem in just the team’s second season and is Macon’s first pro sports title since the Macon Peaches’ baseball crown in 1962.
Feeding off the energy from a crowd of nearly 4,000 fans that was buzzing with energy, the Mayhem led 1-0 on a goal by Dennis Sicard in the first period before heading to the final 20 minutes ahead 2-1 on a Jake Trask goal.
The Mayhem had an answer for every offensive stab put forth by Peoria in the final period, with Jordan Ruby turning the Rivermen away to earn series MVP honors, stopping 64 of 66 shots in the finals.
It’s the second consecutive loss in the finals for Peoria, which is still looking for its first SPHL title.
Four who mattered
Sicard: His first-period goal electrified the home crowd and gave Macon the game’s first goal. His hard slap shot from the blue line was unable to be knocked down by Peoria goalie Storm Phaneuf as the Mayhem drew first blood.
Cody Dion: Peoria’s strong start to begin the second period included the equalizing goal by Dion, who managed to knock the puck in from in front of the goal. It was the only goal allowed by Macon.
Trask: Trask notched another postseason goal for Macon as persistence paid off near the Peoria net. After quick shots by John Siemer and Collin MacDonald didn’t make it past Phaneuf, Trask cashed in for what ended up being the game-winning goal 16:14 into the second period.
Ruby: To win a championship, a team needs a goalie to withstand the white-hot spotlight. Ruby did that once again for Macon on Sunday, saving 39 out of 40 shots that he faced.
Meeting the moment: Sometimes, a group of players taking part in a high-pressure championship series can wilt under the pressure of it. That was not the case for the Mayhem on Sunday. After all, this time has endured season-long adversities such as call-ups to the ECHL, suspensions and being on the brink of elimination in the first round of the playoffs against Columbus. Macon, as it has all year, stayed even keel on Sunday, even when Peoria cranked up the pressure even more in the offensive zone in the third period.
Huge crowd: MIddle Georgians didn’t miss out on their chance to witness history on Sunday. A boisterous crowd was vocal from the opening faceoff, making plenty of noise and starting the “let’s go, Mayhem,” chant multiple times without being prompted.
Slow start: With the ice at the Coliseum not being available Saturday for either team due to the state FFA convention, combined with both being fresh off a 12-hour bus ride, both teams started tentative with a few noticeable jitters on both ends of the ice before the play became more crisp.
Letting them play: Game officials didn’t let themselves become the story of a game with so much on the line. Both sides were allowed their fair share of pushing and shoving in between goalie saves and other shifts with warranting time served for penalties. Both teams were called for a combined 10 minutes’ worth of penalties Sunday.
Familiar faces: The magnitude of Sunday’s game brought recognizable faces from around the league to Macon. In addition to top SPHL officials including commissioner Jim Combs, Columbus head coach Jerome Bechard was also in attendance Sunday.
They said it
Ruby on the emotions of winning a title: “I’ve won a championship before, but for whatever reason this one has sunk in right away. It’s been a long year, for me especially with being away from my wife and the last month and a half away from my son. It’s very emotional, very special. I’m so glad we were able to finish the job and in front of these amazing fans.”
Trask on the fan support: “Since we’ve gotten here, the people in the city of Macon have just been incredible. We can’t thank them enough. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here. We owe everything to them.”
Trask on the celebration on the ice as soon as the game ended with players hurling their gloves and sticks into the air with excitement: “I was just throwing everything I had off. I don’t even know where my stuff is. It’s something you dream about, winning a championship. This is my first one, it’s pretty special.”
Mayhem head coach Kevin Kerr on the team’s resilient and never quit mentality: “It’s crazy. If I had a dollar for every time Daniel Gentzler or Collin MacDonald said, ‘Coach, we’ve got this,’ I’d be $47 richer. It’s just a resilient group. After game one in Columbus, I came in and told our guys, ‘the hockey gods weren’t with us. If we play the same way we did again tomorrow night, we’ll win.’ We ended up winning the game and beating them in overtime and winning the third game. I think we went down 2-1 in game one against Pensacola and ended up winning, were down 2-0 in our building here against them and ended up winning 3-2. We’re down 1-0 against Peoria and won 2-1. This group is unbelieveable. I’m so proud of my players, I love them like they are my own kids.”
Kerr on what the title means for the franchise: “I just hope the best is yet to come. People now know there is hockey in Macon. There’s no excuses anymore. We have a good brand of hockey here, the best is yet to come.”