Roanoke Valley sports fans are about to embark on one of the most unique championships in all sports. Ice hockey playoffs are an unusual format that can swing on sudden momentum, a lot of tactical psychology and an unexpected bounce of the puck leading to the inevitable moment of “Puck Luck.”
The last time a professional ice hockey league championship played out on the Berglund Center (then Roanoke Civic Center) rink was in 1974 when the Roanoke Valley Rebels advanced to take on the Charlotte Checkers in a best-of-seven game series that was tied 3-3 leading into the deciding Game 7 in Roanoke.
The Rebels held on to win the decisive game in front of a packed house in a game that was so close and heated, fans interviewed by this writer several years ago admitted they couldn’t stand the suspense and intensity of every shift to the point they went outside the civic center to avoid watching the finish.
48 years later, the action resumes when the upstart Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs take on the Peoria Rivermen in a best-of-five-game championship for all the marbles.
Here’s a rundown of what to expect and some unique circumstances that surround the matchup.
Southern Professional Hockey League Championship: President’s Cup
Number-3 seed Peoria Rivermen vs. Number-8 seed Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.
Game 1:Thursday, April 28 Roanoke at Peoria, Carver Arena 8:15 p.m. EST.
Game 2: Friday, April 29 Roanoke at Peoria, Carver Arena 8:15 p.m. EST.
Game 3: Monday, May 2 Peoria at Roanoke, Berglund Center 7:05 p.m. EST.
Game 4 (if necessary): Tuesday, May 3 Peoria at Roanoke, Berglund Center 7:05 p.m. EST.
Game 5 (if necessary): Thursday, May 5 Roanoke at Peoria, Carver Arena 8:15 p.m. EST.
Records: Roanoke 23-24-9; 55 points; 8th place regular season
Peoria 38-11-7; 83 points; 3rd place regular season.
Teams series record against each other: 2021-22 season, Peoria 4-1-0. All-time series, Peoria 20-4-0.
Path to the Final: Roanoke: won quarterfinal against #1 Knoxville 2-1 , won semifinal against #2 Huntsville 2-0. Peoria: won quarterfinal against #6 Pensacola 2-1, won semifinal against #5 Quad City 2-1.
President’s Cup Titles: Roanoke-0 this is first try; Peoria-0 this is fourth try.
Defense: Roanoke 3.23 gpg (8th); Peoria 2.25 gpg (2nd).
Offense: Roanoke 3.14 gpg (7th); Peoria 3.91 gpg (2nd).
Power Play: Roanoke 16.7% (7th); Peoria 27.9% (1st).
Penalty Kill: Roanoke 85.0% (3rd); Peoria 88.3% (1st).
Coaches: Roanoke: Dan Bremner, 4th year (88-85-24).
Peoria: Jean-Guy Trudel, 9th year (286-99-53).
Tidbits of the upcoming championship:
Roanoke team president Mickey Gray spent three seasons with Peoria as assistant general manager with the Rivermen.
Roanoke star Jeff Jones was a former center for Peoria.
Roanoke coach Dan Bremner played three seasons for Peoria coach Jean-Guy Trudel and the Rivermen.
Bremner was part of a Rivermen team that lost on a last-second shot to Pensacola in the 2015-16 Finals. Bremner returned to the Finals with the Rivermen in 2016-17 where they lost to Macon. Bremner also played for Columbus when it lost in the SPHL 2013-14 SPHL Finals.
The Rail Yard Dawgs will have a watch party Thursday and Friday at the Berglund Center in Club 611 for Game 1 and Game 2 in Peoria. Watch Parties are sponsored by Bud Light and the event is free and open to all ages. Food and beverage items will be available for purchase. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and puck drops at 8:15 p.m. EST. Those attending should enter the Berglund Center through Gate 12.
Should either team clinch with its third win on Monday or Tuesday at the Berglund Center, one of the greatest sports traditions will take place as the members of both teams go through the handshake line at center ice.