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Rail Yard Dawgs Sweep Huntsville; Will Play Peoria Rivermen For SPHL Championship

The Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs advanced to the SPHL’s President’s Cup Final for the first time     in franchise history, sweeping the Huntsville Havoc with a 2-0 Game Two win in the President’s Cup semifinal round Saturday night in Alabama. Roanoke will face the Peoria Rivermen in a best-three-of-five series beginning later this week.
Saturday’s win followed Thursday night’s 5-3 Game-One win over Huntsville at the Berglund Center that saw Roanoke’s Jeff Jones score twice to go along with single scores by Brant Sherwood, Nick Ford and Sean Leonard. The Dawgs were the aggressors all night, with Sherwood opening the scoring at the 4:44 mark. After Huntsville’s Rob Darrar found the twine at 7:59 to knot things at 1-1, Jones followed with a power play goal at 14:56 that took the Dawgs to the first intermission leading  2-1.
Ford scored on a breakaway at the 6:50 mark of the second period to extend Roanoke’s lead to 3-1, but the Havoc responded with a power play score at 10:45. Just 25 seconds later Leonard made it 4-2 and Jones added another power play score at the 14:42 mark to extend the Dawgs lead to 5-2. Jacob Barber tacked on another for Huntsville at 15:30 that closed out the second period scoring and sent Roanoke to the final 20 minutes up 5-3. Neither team could find the net the rest of the way, setting up Game-Two in Huntsville Saturday night  and a must-win situation for the Havoc.
Saturday night saw Dawg goalie Austyn Roudebush rise to the occasion in the pipes, stoning the Havoc with a 36-save shutout performance. Roudebush, who had been backup to Dawgs starter Sammy Bernard throughout the Knoxville series, was forced into service after an injury to Bernard at the end of the first period of Roanoke’s first game with Huntsville.
Roanoke opened the scoring Saturday night at the 4:20 mark of the second period on a Brady Heppner tally from close in, and the 1-0 nailbiter held until the third period when Nick Ford made it 2-0 on a nifty rebound score. Roanoke held off a late push by the Havoc to seal the win and send the Dawgs to the championship final against the Rivermen, 3-2 winners over Quad City in a do-or-die Game-Three also played Saturday night in Peoria.
In an unusual change to the previously announced SPHL playoff format that had the President’s Cup Final a best 2-of-3 series, the two finalists have opted to play a best 3-of-5 series which is a lesser-known rule in the league’s bylaws. Thus, Roanoke will travel for Game One and Two to Peoria with games set this Thursday and Friday nights starting at 8:15 p.m. EST. Roanoke will then host Peoria for Game Three at 7:05 p.m. on Monday May 2, and will host Game Four, if necessary, on Tuesday May 3 at 7:05 p.m. If the series goes the distance, Game Five will be back in Peoria on Thursday May 5 at 8:15 EST. Tickets go on sale for Game Three online starting Sunday, April 24 at 10 a.m. and at the Berglund Center box office on Monday, April 25.
Bill Turner

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