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TJ's Thoughts

RiverKings Season Recap

 
With the start of the 2018 President's Cup Finals due to start tonight between the Rivermen and Havoc, it's hard not to be bummed that the RiverKings aren't in the finals and vying for the ultimate prize. The reality of the situation is pretty simple -  unless the RiverKings are hoisting the cup at the end of the year, things ended on the wrong note. But instead of dwelling on what could have been, I wanted to take this opportunity to look back on the season that was because there was plenty of positivity surrounding this 2017-18 Mississippi RiverKings team. Not to mention, that positivity will almost certainly roll over into next year, and we'll talk about that too.
 

What Went Right

Devin Mantha: Normally, I like to look at team-centric storylines and don't like to get hung up on one player, but Mantha's 2017-18 campaign is something that can't be ignored. In his fifth season with the RiverKings, Mantha racked up 58 total points on the season with 22 goals and 36 assists. Not only was that his best season since turning pro back in 2012-13, but it is also now the most successful season for ANY RiverKing player since the team joined the SPHL. Coming into this year, the most points scored by a RiverKing in any given season was 56, achieved by Matt Whitehead twice in his career. Mantha recorded his 58 points in an incredibly tumultuous season for the RiverKings line-up. The captain had to deal with the call-ups to wingers Daniel Tedesco, Derek Sutliffe, and Dillan Fox. The rotating door of wingmen didn't slow down Mantha, who consistently lifted up the play of those around him. Case in point, Ryan Marcuz enjoyed the best parts of his season when seeing top line minutes and playing with his longtime teammate Mantha. 

Roster Moves/Transactions: Coach Landmesser was a phenom this season when it comes to making roster moves and trades. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at the trades Landmesser executed this season, starting pre-training camp.

Incoming: Tyler Green (G), Grahame Strukoff (F), Nick Ravait (D) 
Outgoing: Joe Sova (D) and Pete Di Salvo

The cynics of the world would immediately point out that Strukoff and Ravait never made it Mississippi and played the entire season in Europe. Here's why those cynics are wrong. Let’s take Strukoff and Ravait out of the discussion for a moment and say that it was Green for Sova and Di Salvo, straight up. Di Salvo was cut from two teams this season, including Fayetteville, and Joe Sova had an okay year with 29 points in 46 games. On the other hand, Landmesser received in return a solid starting goaltender who ended up leading the league in wins by the time the season was over, and indeed handled the load that was thrown at him. Green for Sova and Di Salvo is a win for the RiverKings, and should either Strukoff or Ravait, have returned from Europe and played well, then the scale tips in favor of Mississippi even more.

Incoming: Donald Olivieri (D)
Outgoing: Robbie Hall (D)

I don’t think this one needs that much of an explanation. The RiverKings brought in a fan-favorite who knew the system, knew coach Landmesser, and was an impact player the moment he arrived. Sure Olivieri was missing for a good chunk of the season from his ECHL call-up, he returned in time to help the RiverKings turn on the jets down the final stretch of the season. Robbie Hall on the other had a less than stellar season with Evansville, registering 12 points (5G, 7A) in 44 games. Olivieri, on the other hand, had 21 points (8G, 13A) in half as many games. Not to mention, Olivieri’s veteran leadership is unquantifiable as the RiverKings defensive core was extremely young.

Incoming: Daniel Tedesco (F)
Outgoing: Trever Hertz (F), Future Considerations

The only three-team trade of the season for the RiverKings, this was probably the closest thing to a win-win-win for all involved. The RiverKings brought in the services of Daniel Tedesco, a forward who was considered for Rookie of the Year by some media outlets. Tedesco’s season highlights included back-to-back games with a hat-trick, an SPHL Warrior Player of the Week Honor, and scoring almost two points per game on average. His 33 points (16G, 17A) in only 21 games played showed exactly how potent of an offensive piece he was. As for Pensacola, they got great production from Trever Hertz as well, and they didn’t have to deal with a lengthy ECHL call-up in the middle of the season like the RiverKings had to work around with Tedesco. In the end, though, Hertz and Tedesco both finished the season with the same point total, despite the fact that Hertz played in 36 more games.

Incoming: Shane Bennett (F), Cody Walsh (D)
Outgoing: Jamie Hill (F)

The second trade of the season with the Marksmen, this one proved to be almost unfair from the get-go. Once again, I can hear the cynics: “Oh, but Walsh wasn’t even on the RiverKings playoff roster.” That’s true; he wasn’t. However, he was a mainstay on the RiverKings defense for months. He helped Mississippi get past the injuries to Ralfs Grinbergs and Richard Coyne, plus the call-up of Olivieri. The other piece to the trade was Shane Bennett who had a promising rookie campaign. Bennett registered 26 points in 39 games with the RiverKings, playing mostly second and third line minutes. On the other side, Jamie Hill played well for the Marksmen getting 30 points this season playing on a top line with one of the league’s top scorers in Jake Hauswirth. I’d be willing to accept that Bennett for Hill straight up was a wash, add in the extra services the RiverKings got out of Cody Walsh and the RiverKings won this trade in a landslide.

 

Incoming: Ryan Salkeld (F)
Outgoing: Mike Moroso (F)

This was the last trade of the season that the RiverKings and Coach Landmesser made, and it was BY FAR the most lopsided trade, too. When Mike Moroso was cut by Roanoke, the RiverKings felt his skills could be used in the absence of Dillan Fox, Daniel Tedesco, and Dillan Fox - all of whom were still in the ECHL on call-ups. Before Moroso ever suited up as a RiverKing, Landmesser was able to ship him to Macon in exchange for forwarding Ryan Salkeld. The Portsmouth, VA native Salkeld played in 20 games for the black and gold and added 21 points to his stat line. By the time the schedule flipped over to the home stretch, Salkeld rose from the second line to the RiverKings top line and stayed there throughout the SPHL Challenge Round. Salkeld even notched a goal and an assist in the RiverKings three Challenge Round games against Huntsville. Moroso on the other hand? He was waived by Macon after only nine games and four points.

Strong Rookie Class: It’s the SPHL, and with that, players’ tenures with teams are often short and considering everyone is on a one-year contract that’s just the nature of the league. Not to mention, each player steps onto the ice with the desire  Despite that, each team across the league has a  core group of classified veterans or multi-year players who have remained across a handful of season. The RiverKings are no different, just look at guys like Devin Mantha, Matt Harrington, and Ryan Marcuz. While I don’t know what the future may hold for the older players on the roster when I look at this roster, I see a bunch of guys who could become that next wave of tenured RiverKings players. Derek Sutliffe, Dillan Fox, Brantley Sherwood, and Daniel Tedesco are all very talented and could be the core of the black and gold for years to come. Then there are guys like Ralfs Grinbergs and Kristaps Bazevics, defensemen who can anchor the blue line for the future. Again, I don’t know what the future holds for any of these guys. Some could opt to not return to Mississippi; some might land in the ECHL in training camp and never come back or even retire (a la Mike Moran). What I can see is that the chemistry shared around the locker room brought forth a ton of good attitudes and I can forsee chunks of the RiverKings roster for next year should none of the above be an issue.

What Went Wrong:

Inconsistencies: It’s going to happen in the SPHL. With rosters constantly shifting due to call-ups and a limited pool of players to bring in to fill holes, consistency is hard to maintain. The RiverKings on the other hand, struggled a little more than other teams in the league. As we determined before, it wasn’t for lack of effort in the transaction department. Perhaps it was the overall youth of the team, but the hot-and-cold nature of so many guys hurt the team towards the middle of the season. Goaltending would be a perfect example. Tyler Green led the league in wins by the time the season was finished, but he also was second in the league in losses. That’s just a microcosm of the team’s overall season.

Failure to Seize Opportunities: This is probably the hardest thing to describe when it comes to what I mean. So, I’ll try by saying this: the RiverKings were not a very opportunistic team this season. They left so many chances on the ice when you look at the smallest things like hitting the net or making the easy save, and squandered even more significant opportunities like being 8th in the league in power play percentage or going scoreless in penalty shots on the season. They were an emotionally streaky team in the sense that when things were good, they were great. But when things were going rough, they had a hard time bouncing back.

What’s In Store: Expect the RiverKings to be involved in the SPHL postseason again this coming year and I think if all the dominoes fall reasonably, it’ll be a deep run at that. I say that merely because of previous trends (Coach Landmesser has never missed the playoffs while coaching this team), and also because I think last year’s offseason was the real “rebuild.” Coach Landmesser has a lot less replenishing to do to the roster this offseason as opposed to years before. The core group is there, (we just talked about the rookies and the core that I expect to be back) and if even half the older players return, I think this team is going deep.

Next Game

Thank You, Fans!

Schedule

Standings

TEAM GP W L OT PTS
PEO y-Peoria 56 38 13 5 81
MAC x-Macon 56 33 16 7 73
PEN x-Pensacola 56 33 16 7 73
HUN x-Huntsville 56 30 16 10 70
KNX x-Knoxville 56 30 20 6 66
EVV x-Evansville 56 27 20 9 63
MRK x-RiverKings 56 29 25 2 60
RKE x-Roanoke 56 26 26 4 56
BIR Birmingham 56 22 28 6 50
FAY Fayetteville 56 12 38 6 30
 
Full Standings

Updated: April 8, 2018

x-Clinched Playoff Berth
y-Clinched Regular Season Title