By Bill Vilona – Ice Flyers Correspondent
After a nine month wait of uncertainty, the Ice Flyers created a home-opening production unlike any in franchise history.
Illuminated by newly installed, high definition, video boards, which instantly modernized the Pensacola Bay Center, the Ice Flyers complimented that wow factor with a fast start and three shorthanded goals in a 6-1 win against the Birmingham Bulls.
It became a perfect choreography for their new era, fan experience inside the arena.
“You could tell before the game there was a buzz in there, which is exciting for us, too,” said Patrick Megannety, who scored a pair of goals and assisted on another to become an easy choice for No. 1 star of the game. “That kind of energy works both ways, too. .
“It was pretty satisfying to be able to come out and play in front of our fans again.”
A crowd of 2,532 watched the first ticketed event at the Bay Center since March 12, 2019.
A week earlier back then, the Ice Flyers had finished a home series against Fayetteville. That was their final time together before the coronavirus pandemic halted the rest of last season in the Southern Professional Hockey League and cancelled the playoffs.
Since that point, so much has changed, of course, in every way of life.
In trying to safeguard the arena, the Ice Flyers limited ticket sales to 3,200 and opened both upper and lower portions of the Bay Center to better space fans in the 8,043 capacity building.
But the biggest element was the Bay Center replacing the antiquated, matrix scoreboard and installing Samsung-built, video boards that included a four-panel, main scoreboard hanging at center ice, then auxiliary boards in both corners of the arena.
Never before in the 35-year history of the facility had there been a way to showcase replays of goals, live game action, show fans dancing in the stands, kiss cams, commercials for sponsors, or other game-experience enhancements.
The home debut changed the perspective.
“It was great to see,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff. “It was a long-time coming for our arena, our town. When you came out for the first time (during pregame introductions) and saw it all lit up, it looks really neat. It was awesome.
“The fan experience is a whole 180 and I think our fans enjoyed it. Obviously I didn’t see a whole lot that was going on up there. But you could definitely tell the replays and stuff like that are a big difference.”
On the ice, fans didn’t have to wait long for the first goal replay. On a first-period power play, Matt Ustaski was stationed next to the Bulls’ net where Garrett Milan found him open.
Ustaski flicked a shot into the top corner with 8:44 elapsed to trigger the first fans’ goal dance of the season.
Less than two minutes later, Megannetty scored his first goal to give the Ice Flyers a 2-0 lead at intermission.
Early in the second period, while on a penalty kill, Alec Hagaman broke free and slid the puck past Bulls’ goaltender Austin Lotz.
After a rare defensive lapse in the final minute of the second period led to Birmingham’s lone goal, the Ice Flyers scored twice more on penalty kills during the third period to blow open the game.
“We came out in third period and really took care of the puck in our end and didn’t give them anything,” said Aldoff, whose team opened its season Dec. 26 with 4-3 overtime win in Birmingham. “And we took advantage of our chances in the offensive end.
“Overall, a very good hockey game. The work ethic, the commitment was 100-percent.”
The effort was typified by Eddie Matushima, who provided a 4-1 lead on a breakaway, shorthanded goal that he followed by sliding into the goal cage in a collision with Lotz.
That goal proved to be the backbreaker. Matsushima then assisted on Duggie Lagrone’s first goal less than two minutes later. Megannety closed out the scoring with the team’s third short handed goal in the game – potentially a club record.
“I was trying to think if I have ever seen that before,” Aldoff said. “That was a special night, special game with that stuff. One shorthanded goal is huge, let alone three. The guys busted and deserved them. It was a big night, good win.
“After I missed that penalty shot earlier in the game, the goalie needed a little payback,” Matsushima said. “PK (penalty kill) is definitely one of the strong points in my game. I saw the opportunity.
“I just took off and unfortunately that goalie was standing on the tracks when the train came through. It was big for sure.”
Ice Flyers goaltender Jake Kupsky stopped 24 shots to get his second win.
“Everyone was going (Wednesday night),” he said. “We keep that up and we will be a dangerous team. Everyone on this team this year are really good guys.”
WHO: Huntsville Havoc vs. Ice Flyers
WHEN: Saturday, 7:05 p.m..
WHERE: Pensacola Bay Center
RADIO: WPNN (103.7 FM, 790 AM).
TICKETS: Available online at ticketmaster.com at the Bay Center box office.