By Bill Vilona
Ice Flyers correspondent
During the roughest point of his team’s season, Pensacola Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff maintained belief a change was near.
His faith has been rewarded.
The Ice Flyers peaked at the right moment, resulting in a chance to win another Southern Professional Hockey League championship when the President’s Cup Finals begin with Game 1 Friday night at the Pensacola Bay Center against the Macon Mayhem.
“This is where we expected to be and came here to win this thing,” said Aldoff, who has led the Ice Flyers to championship titles in 2014 and 2016. “We’re happy to be here in the finals, be in this position, but we’re not satisfied. Unless we win this thing.”
It’s a best-of-three series with the final two games at Macon, Ga. on Saturday and Sunday, if necessary. Just like their finish to the regular season, the Ice Flyers need to reverse a trend.
Macon dominated the season matchups, winning eight of the 10 games, including the last four meetings, all in Macon. One of those was a 9-3 loss in early April. There was a 5-0 loss at the Bay Center that led to some roster moves.
But that was then. And now it’s a quick sprint to a trophy.
“I felt right from the beginning of the season that we had a good team here,” Aldoff said. “We had some long-term injuries, and it kind of made it tough, but the guys kept battling.
“Once we got through that… got some players put in place that we needed. And It only made us better.”
Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris was able to work out a Friday home game in exchange for Macon having the final two games on home ice this week as the regular-season champ and top seed.
The Ice Flyers only win against Macon at the Bay Center was 2-1 on Jan. 30. That win was followed by two months without an Ice Flyers home win – a streak of 10 games.
But in the final two weeks of April, the Ice Flyers began to show a turnaround that carried into a two-game sweep against No. 2 seeded Knoxville Ice Bears in the SPHL semifinals.
This will be Pensacola’s fifth time in the SPHL title series. The Ice Flyers won three in a four year period to set a standard as one of the league’s top franchises.
“We believed we had a team that could win this for a long time, so it was just a matter of getting things together,” Aldoff said. “Getting some games, getting some practices, getting that rhythm as a team that is going to go to the playoffs. This past month you really saw the confidence and the increase in level of play.
“You go through growth spurts and we had growth spurts. Something out of our control. Other things we could control and I thought we turned the corner and started controlling that real well.”
Against Knoxville, the Ice Flyers excelled with strong goaltending delivered by Jake Kupsky, limited the Ice Bears shots on goal, won the specialty-teams and took few penalties in two wins.
They now need two more for another trophy.
“That was the goal coming here, when I signed back in the summer,” said team captain Garrett Milan. “We want to get to the finals. And it’s not a season until we win the championship. That’s our goal, that everyone’s goal. We never quit and we knew we could turn this thing around.”
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Game 1 SPHL President’s Cup Finals
WHEN: Friday, 7:05 p.m.
WHO: Macon Mayhem vs. Ice Flyers
WHERE: Pensacola Bay Center
TICKETS: Available online at www.pensacolaiceflyers.com or at Bay Center box office.
GIVEAWAY: First 2,500 fans will receive an Ice Flyers rally towel.