ECHL: Kelly Cup Round One Preview: #2 Jacksonville Icemen vs #3 Greenville Swamp Rabbits

Gary Lloyd McCullough/Jacksonville Icemen

After a barnburner points race to close the season and determine playoff seeding, the ECHL’s South Division playoff field is set. The second-seeded Jacksonville Icemen will take on the third-place Greenville Swamp Rabbits in a sure-to-be ultra-competitive first-round matchup. The Icemen most recently closed out the season with a win over the Orlando Solar Bears, picking up the 44th win of the year for the hockey club, a new team record for most wins in a single season. The Swamp Rabbits enter the playoffs after going on a four-game win streak and ending the season with their 40th win. It’s the first time since the 2016-2017 season that the Swamp Rabbits have reached the 40 wins mark.

Jacksonville Icemen Forward #29 Craig Martin. Credit: ECHL/Jacksonville Icemen

#2 Jacksonville Icemen:

The Icemen enter the playoffs finding their stride at the right moment. Winning five of their last six games, the Icemen have been firing on all cylinders as they move into their second consecutive playoff appearance. This momentum could prove helpful while facing a familiar foe in the Swamp Rabbits. The teams met eleven times in the regular season, the Icemen coming away with the better record through those 11 games at 6-4-1 (4-4-2-1). It’s worth noting the team’s challenges to overcome for those victories, two of them being tightly contested overtime winners and others coming with a slim goal cushion. Jacksonville will look to their skilled and experienced forward group to change the storyline in the postseason. Forwards Derek Lodermeier and Cristiano DiGiacinto have been two of the Icemen’s main contributors as of late. Lodermeier comes into the playoffs having set new career highs in both goals and assists (26g, 21a), while DiGiacinto has 15 points through his first 19 games with the Icemen. Plagued with injuries, the Icemen should see some additional relief and scoring help with players returning from injured reserved. Heavy-hitting defenseman Jacob Friend recently returned to the lineup, as well as forward Craig Martin. Gritty forward and fan favorite Travis Howe is also expected to return to the Icemen roster, adding some size and physicality for the playoffs.

Part of what’s been dubbed the “three-headed monster,” look for Jacksonville goaltenders Charles Williams and Olaf Lindbom to mind the net during round one. Veteran goalie Charles Williams boasts a .926 save percentage on the year and a 2.08 goals-against average. He’ll look to New York Rangers prospect Olaf Lindbom to help maintain the crease. The 22-year-old Swedish netminder played 28 games for the Icemen this season and finished the year with a .890 save percentage and 3.01 goals-against average. While playoff eligible, Goaltender Parker Gahagen was recently recalled to the Icemen’s AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack.

Greenville Swamp Rabbits forward #16, Ethan Somoza. Credit: Greenville Swamp Rabbits

#3 Greenville Swamp Rabbits:

After completing the regular season on a four-game win streak, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits now set their sights on continuing a winning trend as they enter their third consecutive postseason. Greenville’s heavy style of play and the quick-fire offense will be needed as they take on an Icemen team that’s proven to be an evenly-matched competitor. In the previous eleven meetings this season, there were two games in which Greenville won by just a single-goal margin, while the other victories only had a two or, at best, three-goal margin. The Swamp Rabbits will need to rely on the arsenal of talent they have at their disposal to generate scoring and control the tempo in the opening round. Rookie forward Alex Ierullo has been a thorn in the Icemen’s side all season and much of the league’s as well. Putting up 87 points (27g, 60a) through 67 games this season and recently named to the ECHL’s All-Rookie team, Ierullo will aim to provide the Swamp Rabbits with plenty of scoring help. Additionally, seasoned forwards Tanner Eberle (24g, 25a) and Nikita Pavlychev (25g, 20a) will be looking to add to their regular season success after both skaters saw new career highs in points this year. One of the players Greenville will need to help bolster support for the forward lineup is breakout defenseman, Max Martin. Martin collected 52 points in the regular season with 14 goals and 38 assists

and finished third place in votes for the ECHL’s Defenseman of the Year award.

The Swamp Rabbits will see goaltending duo Ryan Bednard and Luke Richardson between the pipes. Bednard has started in net 20 times for the Swamp Rabbits this season, posting an 11-8-1-1 record with a .913 save percentage and 2.81 goals against average. Newcomer Luke Richardson will support Bednard. Richardson has only made two appearances for Greenville this season, though he does have a .952 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average through those two games. Much like Jacksonville, the Swamp Rabbits have been met with a recent call-up in the goaltending department. Netminder David Hernak was recently promoted to the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL.

Tale of the Tape:

Gary Lloyd McCullough/For The Icemen
18.5% (19th)Powerplay21.3% (9th*)
77.7% (22nd)Penalty Kill80.4% (14th)
244Goals For231
211Goals Against207
* – denotes a tie

It’s fair to say nothing, in particular, stands out on the stat sheet for either team. The Icemen and the Swamp Rabbits land pretty middle of the pack as far as powerplay and penalty kill percentages go, and both teams struggle with a high goals against average. This is just one of several ways. Each team mirrors the other. For instance, neither team fared well against the other on home ice. The Icemen ended the regular season with a 1-3-1 record at home against Greenville, and Greenville, respectively, posted a 1-3-2 record at home. Jacksonville has the home-ice advantage, but if Greenville has anything to say about it, a home-ice atmosphere might not factor into it all that much. Coincidentally, if Greenville fails to pick up any steam on the road, the Icemen may ensure there’s no way for them to pick up any smoke at all. The only thing that may be certain is that there will be no lack of fireworks between these old divisional acquaintances in round one.

Game one is scheduled to occur in Jacksonville on Friday, April 21, at 7:00 pm ET. A schedule for the rest of the action is below.

Game 2 – Sunday, April 23 at 5 pm ET at Jacksonville
Game 3 – Tuesday, April 25 at 7:05 pm ET at Greenville
Game 4 – Friday, April 28 at 7:05 pm ET at Greenville
Game 5 – Saturday, April 29 at 7:05 pm ET at Greenville (If Necessary)
Game 6 – Tuesday, May 2 at 7 pm ET at Jacksonville (If Necessary)
Game 7 –Wednesday, May 3 at 7 pm ET at Jacksonville (If Necessary)

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is a freelance hockey reporter covering the ECHL's Jacksonville Icemen for Inside The Rink and the Vancouver Canucks for The Canuck Way. His work has been featured on Hockey of Tomorrow and The Daily Faceoff, and can be found on Twitter/X @FromTheDrewLine.

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