By Bill Vilona – Ice Flyers Correspondent
The past three seasons, Alec Hagaman earned his way as one of the best players in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
In changing jerseys, it’s proven to be a seamless transition with the Ice Flyers.
Hagaman, 31, a six-year pro, continued throwing his body and lighting goal lamps, after scoring twice more Saturday, giving him five goals in three games and leading the Ice Flyers to a 5-1 victory against the Huntsville Havoc at the Pensacola Bay Center.
“I have really good linemates that are giving me the puck and right now they are going in for me, so it’s awesome, but it’s an all-around team effort every night,” said Hagaman, a Peoria, Ill. native, who lived a dream by playing for the hometown Peoria Rivermen his entire pro career prior to this season.
“I don’t see any reason why it won’t keep going like this,” said Hagaman, one of the Ice Flyers’ assistant captains. “I don’t know if it’s different (playing in Pensacola), but we’re jelling. In a COVID year, we all have the same goals. We’re going to come in and work hard.”
The effort is what has pleased Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff the most about his team, which is off to a 3-0 start with back-to-back, blowout wins at home.
In addition to the goal-scoring, the Ice Flyers got another outstanding night of backstopping from goaltender Jake Kupsky, who made 27 saves. Since the first period in the Dec. 26 season-opener at Birmingham, Kupsky has allowed just two goals and stopped 76 of 78 shots in eight periods.
“Jake is an elite goalie, so it is no surprise on his play,” Aldoff said. “He competes, same with Chase (Perry). We have two great goalies. They compete for that puck and they are doing a great job.”
On a night with the crowd-pleasing, small dog races as the intermission promotion, the Ice Flyers had another fast start with three first-period goals.
After no scoring in the second period, the Ice Flyers put the game away when Hagaman scored his second goal six minutes into the final period for a 4-1 lead.
Eleven minutes later, rookie Clark Kuster, who was signed earlier this year by the Kalamazoo Wings in the higher-level ECHL, scored his first professional goal to finish off the Ice Flyers’ scoring.
The Ice Flyers did not allow Huntsville a shot on goal in the game’s first five minutes. Hagaman’s first goal with 4:21 remaining in the first period gave a 3-1 lead at intermission. After killing several penalties in the second period, the Ice Flyers revved back up in the finale.
“I thought overall it was a good 60 minutes,” Aldoff said. “There were a couple little breakdowns, but we put ourselves in good position. The work ethic is superb. We got a skating team that goes to work. And you mix that work ethic with talent, it’s only a recipe for success.
“The third period we put ourselves in good position when it’s time to finish games. That’s where we are learning how to win. We buckled down in our end and didn’t give them a whole lot.”
The two teams meet again Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. in Huntsville, Ala. Given how the final two periods evolved Saturday with some chippiness and skirmishes, it could be a carry-over for emotion.
“We’re enjoying this, but we put our head on a pillow (Saturday night), it’s time to start preparing for (Sunday),” Aldoff said. “It’s another game. It doesn’t matter who comes out the other side of the rink, we have to be prepared.”
Aldoff was prepared with a recruiting pitch to Hagaman in early October, after Peoria opted out of the season, along with the other four North division teams in the SPHL due to arena limitations and other issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ice Flyers wound up signing four players from the Rivermen. The players from all North division teams instantly became free agents.
“A couple teams reached out to me and I had a really good conversation with Rod,” Hagaman said.
“We talked about how I wanted a similar philosophy with coaching and atmosphere and what a coach demands out of players.
“(Aldoff) demands excellence at all times. He’s not going to let you get away with just playing average. He is gong to let you know it. That’s what I was looking for and that’s what convinced me to come here.”
Hagaman produced 166 points, including 67 goals the previous three seasons in Peoria. He became friends with the Ice Flyers Eddie Matsushima, who scored the game’s second goal Saturday night. The two graduated from the same college, years apart.
“Alec is a good man, he’s a good pro,” Aldoff said. “He’s proud to be here, proud to wear our jersey. He’s played a lot of hockey and he understands the game and he comes to the rink every day and puts the effort in practice and games.
“He’s an Ice Flyer and it’s good to have him and he’s big part of our team. He’s come in understanding how we do things. At the end of the day hockey is hockey no matter where you play.”
Hagaman well-remembers playing in the Bay Center when it had the antiquated, old scoreboard hanging above center ice.
Now, it’s a high-definition, four-panel video board made by Samsung, plus one each in the end corners of the Bay Center. The video production and sound have provided a whole new dimension to Ice Flyers games.
“It is definitely a lot more electrifying than it was,” Hagaman said, smiling. “The old scoreboard you could never see much on It and it was kind of dim. Now, its bright lights in there and it’s really nice to see.
“And the fans here are as loud as they can be even with the limits on crowd size. Seems kind of normal to me. It is nice.”
NEXT HOME GAME
WHO: Birmingham Bulls vs. Ice Flyers
WHEN: Jan. 8, 7:05 p.m.
WHERE: Pensacola Bay Center
RADIO: WPNN (103.7 FM, 790 AM).
TICKETS: Available online at www.pensacolaiceflyers.com or at the Bay Center box office.