Roanoke slapped back and left the Rivermen blushing red.
The Dawgs eliminated regular season champs Peoria last Friday night with the 4-3 win in Illinois, completing the 2-game sweep in the best-of-three-game series. Roanoke now advances to the Southern Professional Hockey League semifinal round against the Birmingham Bulls that begins Thursday night at the Berglund Center. Puck drop is 7:05 pm.
Peoria swayed from conventional wisdom in the opening Challenge Round when the first place Rivermen, free to pick from the 5th-8th seeds, targeted 5th place Roanoke as its opening round opponent rather than a lower seed.
History may have been in Peoria’s favor, as the Rivermen had knocked out 8th seed Roanoke in last year’s opening Challenge Round and had won all three meetings between the two teams this year.
Roanoke wasted no time in throwing the history books out the window, dropping Peoria 4-3 in game one last Wednesday night at the Berglund Center as Dawg Mac Jansen scored twice and Josh Nenadal’s deflection late in the third period proved to be just enough to stun the Rivermen. Roanoke had trailed 3-2 early in the third before Colton Wolter took a pass from Cody Dion in the slot and fired a shot just under the crossbar to tie things at 3.
Although the Rivermen peppered Roanoke goalie Jacob Caffrey throughout the final period, Caffrey was up to the task to pick up the win in the pipes.
Two nights later at the Owens Center in Peoria, Roanoke jumped out to a 4-0 lead and held off a furious rally by the Rivermen to advance. Peoria scored on a two-man advantage after a pair of minor penalties to Caffrey late in the second period that cut the Roanoke lead to 4-1 to start the final 20 minutes.
The Rivermen added their second goal with just under 9 minutes left, and closed to 4-3 after pulling their goalie during a power play to skate 6-on-4 with less than four minutes to play. Peoria swarmed the Roanoke goal in the final two minutes, again pulling their net minder for the extra attacker, but Caffrey withstood the frantic barrage around the crease.
Dawgs Maxime Guyon had two goals, Roanoke scored on a shorthanded goal and Dion tallied on a rebound effort that had shocked the Peoria faithful. The four goals proved to be just enough for the second straight 4-3 final in a span of 48 hours. Roanoke’s playoff series win was its first in franchise history.
Birmingham, second place in the regular season, defeated 8th place Fayetteville 5-0 Sunday night in the winner-take-all game three of their opening Challenge Round series. Roanoke clashed with the Bulls seven times this season, going 3-2-2 that included a 2-1-0 mark on the Berglund pond.
The semifinal seedings recognized the Bulls as the highest seeded team remaining against the lowest seeded team remaining, Roanoke. The other semifinal pairs the number three seed Huntsville Havoc against the fourth-seeded Knoxville Ice Bears.
Game 2 of the Roanoke-Birmingham best-of-three takes place Friday night in Birmingham. Game 3, if necessary, stays in Birmingham Saturday night.