By Shawn Bednard | Macon Mayhem
After a sweeping three-game road trip down by the Pensacola Bay, the Macon Mayhem would return home to take on familiar border foe, Knoxville. With strong wins in their last three contests against the Ice Bears, and a chance to take possession of first place in the Southern Professional Hockey League, the Mayhem came in with plenty to play for.
That motivation to play was certainly evident in the first 20 minutes, as the Mayhem put on a shooting clinic against SPHL journeyman goaltender Peter Di Salvo. An early powerplay for the Mayhem, while fruitless, would set the tone for the offensive pressure the Mayhem would provide for the night. Despite a scoreless start for either side, Macon showcased its prowess and ability enroute to outshooting Knoxville in the first period, 19-7.
Period #2 would see much of the same as the previous frame; a long-bout of scoreless, physical, intense hockey. After stopping 19 in the first frame, Peter Di Salvo would face another 10 shots from the Mayhem offense. Macon would be beneficiaries of another powerplay in the second period, but would have less success than on their previous efforts. The end-to-end effort would eventually result in a penalty call against the Mayhem, as Jimmy Soper would go off for a hook. With one of the top Penalty Kills in the SPHL, the Macon Mayhem have had their share of success undermanned; that would ring true evermore late in the frame. With 48.4 seconds left to go in the second period, Ray Brice would force a turnover, transition into a breakway, and race down the ice for his third goal in four games. Brice's fourth point in four games would give the Mayhem a 1-0 lead heading into the final frame, after outshooting the Ice Bears 10-6.
In the final frame, Knoxville would prove they weren't going away easily. Less than five minutes in, Johnny Curran would throw a knuckle puck to beat Jake Theut and tie it up at 1-1. With plenty of play coming too close to Theut's net, Casey Johnson would drop the gloves with Callum Fryer, and they'd both sit for roughing. Despite constant, sustained pressure from the Mayhem that would result in a 12-shot period, Peter Di Salvo would do his part and refuse to budge another goal. Curran's goal and Di Salvo's ability would earn the Ice Bears a point as they'd force OT. With the point, the Macon Mayhem would tie Pensacola for first place.
Overtime started entirely in the possession of Knoxville, as they controlled the puck primarily during the extra frame. No legitimate opportunities would come as a result of their sustained pressure, and Macon would try their hand on the opposite side. After a drive back the other way from Knoxville, Macon would come to find an opportunity similar to their lone-goal up to that point; through a breakaway. Mason Baptista, streaking away from the crowd, would be perfectly passed the puck, skate on an edge to the left side circle, and fire one past Di Salvo for the game-winner. Baptista's fifth goal of the season would give Macon their fourth-straight win, fourth-straight win over Knoxville, and place them in sole-possession of first place in the SPHL.