By Bill Vilona – Contributing Writer for the Pensacola Ice Flyers
Pensacola, Fla. (Jan. 23, 2020) – In a season with only 28 scheduled home games, each one carries its own importance and placement on a promotional calendar.
But the annual $5 ticket weekend the Ice Flyers will celebrate on Friday and Saturday at the Pensacola Bay Center brings a unique vibe that a filled arena can produce.
The Ice Flyers are expecting large crowds again for the $5 ticket, except for the glass seating rows closest to the ice, for games Friday against the Birmingham Bulls and Saturday against the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.
“The whole weekend is for the fans, and for us to hopefully play some good hockey and have a buzz about hockey,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff. “It’s a chance for some people to come and see their first hockey game and let them experience our sport.
“Anyway you look at this, it’s a lot of fun.”
The Ice Flyers enter the big weekend after a successful road trip – and 24 hour bus journey – against the first place Peoria Riverman in Peoria, Ill.
The Ice Flyers (18-5-5) earned four of six points in three games last weekend. The handed the Rivermen (21-4-3) one of their few losses with a 4-2 comeback win in one game. They lost in post-overtime shootouts in the other two games.
“Out of the nine periods, the one bad period we played was the first period in the game we won,” Aldoff said. “We came out flat and got two goals scored on us. It was not a kind conversation we had in that locker room.
“We had to wake up. We had to compete. (Players) held themselves accountable and went out and scored three goals the next period. Give our team credit… we knew it and guys fixed it and guys went out there and got a big win.”
They did it with a new goaltender, former Peoria goaltender Steven Klein in net for two of those games after being signed earlier last week. Starting goaltender Jake Kupsky was called up to the higher level ECHL. They also got early-season starter Chase Perry back from his ECHL call-up.
“Goaltending was very good, just as it has been all year,” Aldoff said.
“Overall we played well.”
The Ice Flyers have held their $5 weekend at different times and different ways in past years. Last season, one of the nights was the home-opening game, followed by a second $5 ticket night later in the year. The back-to-back $5 nights have been held in different months as well.
“This definitely fit the best,” said Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris. “What you have to do is be careful that it’s not too close to other games. So, we had a two week gap between our home games, then these two games, followed by another gap (next home games Feb. 7-8).
“So, placing these games is very strategic. We carefully consider all angles. We look to place it in the best place possible to maximize the impact, not only for organization, but for everybody downtown.”
As Harris points out, the impact of potentially having a combined 15,000 people at the Bay Center for the two games brings residual impact for area restaurants and bar establishments.
Inside the arena, it brings a ramped up energy that Aldoff said impacts the players. There are quick moments when he looks around the arena to appreciate the seating packed with people.
“It is always nice to see a big crowd,” he said. “It is a different atmosphere. We have great fans here. And when you get 4,000 (in lower bowl area), it’s loud for sure.
“But when you fill the top off and it’s packed, it’s pretty neat. Guys feed off it and it’s pretty cool. These are fun games to play. Obviously, we want to put a good show on and play well.”
WANT TO GO?
WHO: Birmingham Bulls vs. Ice Flyers (Friday); Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs vs. Ice Flyers (Saturday)
WHEN: Opening faceoff is 7:35 p.m. Friday, 7:05 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Pensacola Bay Center
TICKETS: $5 for all seats, except for the first few rows at ice level along the glass.