By: Bill Vilona • PensacolaIceFlyers.com Correspondent
Brett D’Andrea’s parents spent Christmas morning at their home in Michigan, exchanged gifts, then drove 1,100-plus miles the rest of the day to greet their son early Thursday morning in Pensacola.
He then provided quite a memorable present last night.
The Ice Flyers’ second-year, pro scored a pair of goals, including the game-decisive one on a power-play late in the third period in the team’s 4-2 win against the Macon Mayhem at the Pensacola Bay Center.
“It’s awesome,” said D’Andrea, who entered the game with just one goal this season. “It’s good to have (parents) down here and get the win, too. They drove all night (Christmas Day) to be here.”
The win began a three-game weekend. The Ice Flyers play Friday night in Huntsville against the Havoc. Then they play the Birmingham Bulls on Saturday night (7:05 p.m.) at the Bay Center.
D’Andrea, 25, who played his college hockey at NCAA Division I member Bowling Green, also helped the Ice Flyers boost their efforts on power play opportunities.
It’s been the one element this season that has been confounding. The Ice Flyers (13-4-2 overall) are last in the Southern Professional Hockey League in power play proficiency with only six goals in 63 chances before Thursday’s game.
“Anytime you cam score on the power play, that’s what the (bonus) situation is so it was a big goal,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff. “And it was good to see. Nice to see Brett get a couple goals. It was a grind tonight. We kinda gave (Macon) that second (tying) one. But the guys kept their head down and got it done.
D’Andrea got a pass from Garrett Milan, who later followed with a game-sealing empty net goal, as he was positioned in front of the faceoff circle with 15 seconds left on the power play. He purposely let go with a low shot along the ice that deflected off a skate and into the net with 5:21 left in the game.
“It was kinda of a nothing play,” said D’Andrea, a Marysville, Mich. native. “(Milan) threw a puck at the net. It came to me in the slot.
“I saw a bunch of guys coming at me and I really didn’t have a shot lane. So I threw it far side, hoping to hit a stick and it actually hit Matt Ustaski skate and went in. That was all around just getting pucks and bodies around the net.”
The surprise continued in post-game when D’Andrea was unaware he was named the game’s No. 1 star and had to be summoned from the locker room. He showed his proficiency in being able to run on skate blades on the rubber runway to the ice entrance in a matter of seconds.
“I heard my name called. I was deep in the locker room and I just turned on the burners to get out there,” he said laughing.
Macon (7-12-2) pulled its goaltender with 2:23 left following a timeout. Just 18 seconds later, Ice Flyers goaltender Jake Kupsky made the save of the game with a terrific extended glove to rob the Mayhem of a tying goal.
Nine seconds after that game-changing moment, Milan weaved through center-ice traffic and fired a perfect shot into the open net to win the game.
Kupsky, who is now 4-0 as a starter, is taking over the No. 1 role with Chase Perry on loan to the Orlando Solar Bears in the higher-level ECHL.
“Those kind of saves, those are big saves,” Aldoff said. “That was a difference maker.”
“Chase was playing a lot early (in season) because Jake was hurt, but they are both good goalies in their own right. He’s going to get more time now obviously, so it was nice to see get a good win (Thursday).”
The game followed the Ice Flyers first home loss Saturday in regulation time. The other had been in overtime. Knowing his players wanted to see family, Aldoff gave the players three days off and set a Christmas night practice at the Bay Center to prepare for Thursday’s game.
“The good news is both teams are in the same situation (with Christmas break),” Aldoff said. “That was why it was key to get the guys back (Wednesday) night, get some ice time, get the legs under us, rather than not skating at all with four days off.
“Sometimes those little thigs are difference makers.”
The game started slow for the Ice Flyers. Macon scored with the game’s first shot on a power-play, rebound goal just 1:16 into the first period.
Just over a minute later, however, Kyle Froese scored his first professional goal on a backhand shot. It created a situation where two goals had been scored on a combined three shots between the teams.
D’Andrea scored his first goal with 8:22 left in the second period after Michael Ederer raced down the left side of the ice and found D’Andrea open for a one-timer that he buried into the net.
The Mayhem scored less than five minutes into the third period on loose puck rebound in the crease area.
When Macon was whistled for a high stick penalty, the Ice Flyers worked their power play to create the scoring chance that D’Andrea finished.
“Special teams are a big key. It is the difference in the game,” he said. It’s been frustrating this season, we have been struggling. But we have put a lot of work in and it’s paying off.
“We have been doing pretty well the past two games with our special teams. We let up one (power play goal) day, but over the course of the past four or five games, it has been good.”