By Bill Vilona
Ice Flyers Correspondent
The Ice Flyers were seconds away Sunday from a comeback weekend to cherish.
But that’s all it took for an ending that was stunning and mood-deflating.
The Macon Mayhem scored a game-tying goal with 3.2 seconds left, then turned around in the overtime and got another goal only 35 seconds into the extra period for a 3-2 win that produced a two-game sweep at the Pensacola Bay Center.
And it left the Ice Flyers and crowd of 2,220 wondering what just happened.
“I hope as much I’m pretty mad right now, I hope (Ice Flyers players) are too. I believe they are,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff. “If I was sitting in there (locker room) right now, I would be swinging. If you’re a competitor, look at what just happened.
“Two seconds, three seconds. And (Macon) scored two goals in (38) seconds. And weak goals. It would not have to take the coach to make me mad.
“We played poorly this weekend against this team. Better (Sunday). Should have won. But at the end of the day, give (Mayhem) credit. They just fought, did the little things right, stuck to it… hoped at the end… and their dream came true.”
The reality for the Ice Flyers is with three points gained in three consecutive games, they opened a three-point lead over Macon and Huntsville atop the Southern Professional Hockey League standings.
But it’s what could have been that left Aldoff upset.
“It’s another one we gave away,” said Aldoff, whose team has lost three overtime games at home in the past 30 days. “We got a point out of it. That’s great, but it’s not great.”
The Ice Flyers began an eventful weekend Friday with a nightmarish 5-0 loss against Macon that was their worst of the season and triggered Aldoff’s initial anger.
But they rebounded Saturday at Huntsville, after training 2-0 in the first period, to produce a 4-3 win against the Huntsville Havoc. That brought good vibes on the six-hour bus ride back to Pensacola where they arrived early Sunday morning.
Hours later Sunday, they scored the game’s first goal on Eddie Matsushima’s short-handed goal in the second period.
They got a go-ahead goal from Jake Wahlin in spectacular, diving fashion with 5:29 left in the game. All seemed good in the final minute, even after Macon pulled star goaltender Jake Theut for an extra attacker.
With 30 seconds left, the Ice Flyers were sealing off lanes and limiting Macon from setting up in their zone.
But with 15 seconds left, the Ice Flyers’ Brennan Blaszczak was called for tripping and now Macon had a 6 on 4 edge.
“It started with a dumb penalty behind the play in last bit,” Aldoff said. “We had the puck leaving the zone and we take a penalty. Now you got the fight-for-your-life kind of thing. We didn’t fight for our lives and they did.”
On the ensuing faceoff in their zone, the Ice Flyers’ Alec Hagaman won the draw and sent the puck into the corner boards.
“That’s where we wanted to go with it… put it there,” Aldoff said. “Obviously they had two extra guys than we did. So you put it on the wall with support there. We got it.”
But amid the boards battle, the Mayhem forced the puck free and onto the stick of Gabe Guertier, who was parked alone between the face-off circles. His quick snap-shot got past Ice Flyers goaltender Chase Perry to tie the game with 3.2 seconds left.
“The mean streak you need to finish a game sometime, you have to be a bigger jerk than them in the last 15 seconds,” Aldoff said. “If you’re not, and you play soft, then you get what we got. They were getting on the bus in the last five seconds and now they win the game.
“Their second effort in the last 10 seconds there, like a shark that smells blood in the water, they had it and we didn’t. We had the puck.”
The five-minute overtime lasted 35 seconds. This time it was Guertler finding Max Cook open outside of the faceoff circles. His wrist shot went between Perry’s pads and into the net.
“Too many weak goals lately, especially this weekend,” Aldoff said. “If (goalies) not ready to play, they won’t play. We’ll find other ones.
“You got to have stops when you need them. The overtime goal, another weak one. Basically a snap shot from way out.”
The Ice Flyers will stay in Pensacola this week to prepare for three home games in three days, beginning Friday with yet another return by Macon.
While the Mayhem have played the fewest games (11) than anyone in the five-team league, their 7-2-2 is partly due to great goaltending.
Theut, 27, a Michigan native and second-year professional, has allowed just 14 goals this season. He made several point-blank saves Sunday including one where the goal judge was so convinced a Ice Flyers goal was imminent, he inadvertently flipped on the goal lamp.
While solving Theut is a priority in their next meeting, Aldoff said the Ice Flyers have to dig deeper within their own selves.
“Friday we were a horrible team,” Aldoff said. “Saturday we played great all game. We let in two soft goals to start the game and then we settled in and we played well up there (in Huntsville). And (Sunday) we played well, but you got to finish it.
“Everyone is too nice… you got to do what it takes. You gotta be a jerk. You have to fight for your life and finish. You got to have that mindset.”