By Bill Vilona
Ice Flyers Correspondent
The Ice Flyers ended two months of home ice frustration Thursday with a wowing barrage of goals, grit and relentless pursuit.
They scored early, often, in bunches, and with such a frequency it created a franchise memory in a 9-1 victory against the Birmingham Bulls at the Pensacola Bay Center.
Even the crowd on throw-back “80’s Night” seemed to be worn out after so many celebratory goal dances. The win ended 10 consecutive home losses, dating all the way back before the Super Bowl was even played.
The nine goals were the most scored this season by any team in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
“We needed a game like that,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff, whose team’s last home win was a 2-1, post-overtime shootout result against Macon on Jan. 30. “Right from the get-go, until right till the end I thought we were determined.
“No disrespect to Birmingham but we just needed to break out of that…. we have been playing well, we just needed to get over that thorn that has been in our side. Nice to see that. (Players) worked hard for what they got and I was happy for them.”
So much to digest.
Let’s start with the fact that six different players scored, led by winger Darren McCormick, who completed his hat trick by scoring the Ice Flyers final three goals of the game.
There were 10 different players producing points. One of those players, winger Frederic Letourneau, had four assists and the Quebec native’s most points since joining the Ice Flyers 11 games ago.
Another was Marcel Godbout, 24, a Michigan native, whose professional debut Thursday resulted in two goals. Godbout just completed his senior year at Sacred Heart University, an NCAA Division I hockey program in Connecticut. Godbout had one of the Ice Flyers two power play goals.
Specialty teams also came up with a shorthanded goal by Eddie Matsushima midway through the first period. The Ice Flyers led 4-0 into the first intermission and never looked back.
“Getting a good lead early — and playing the way we were playing — only adds confidence,” Aldoff said. “Shift by shift, period by period. I was proud of the guys, they didn’t change a thing. They just kept the pedal down and were focused each shift.
“The effort was tremendous. We needed a game where we broke out.”
With several new players, this was a different looking Ice Flyers team than the one which lost to Birmingham 4-3 on Feb. 20 at the Bay Center.
The Ice Flyers generated 44 shots on goal. The lone Birmingham goal squeezed through the leg pads of Ice Flyers goaltender Jake Kupsky with 6:02 left in the second period.
Kupsky was playing his first game for the Ice Flyers since March 6 and only his seventh this season amid call-ups to the ECHL. He is 6-1 in net for the Ice Flyers.
“Jake is a tremendous goalie. He is probably the best goalie in the league,” Aldoff said. “I think the team knows how good he is and there is a sense of confidence for them. He does his job. He’s played well for us every game he’s been here.. He had a couple saves and got her done.”
The Ice Flyers gained two points over Huntsville to remain in third place in the SPHL standings. They have a chance to further the separation between last-place Birmingham, now eight points behind the Ice Flyers.
The Bulls and Ice Flyers meet again Friday night (7:35 p.m.) at the Bay Center on Nickeloden
“It’s going to be a tough game (Friday),” Aldoff said. “A new day and zero-zero. They (Bulls) are going to come out mad. We have to be determined and so we have to be ready, we have to be focused, it going to be a tougher game (Friday night).”
The game started fast. Jake Wahlin scored less than three minutes into the game, taking advantage of a favorable bounce off the back boards – the kind that often resulted in an opponent’s goal during the 10-game home losing street.
Eddie Matsushima followed with a shorthanded goal midway through the first period. Before intermission, the Ice Flyers got two goals less than a minute apart. Godbout scored on a power play with 1:28 remaining, the Zach Walker followed with an even-strength goal with 39 seconds left.
After Garrett Milan opened the second period scoring four minutes into play, Birmingham switched goaltenders. It didn’t matter.
Godbout and McCormick scored goals just 13 seconds apart to stretch the lead to 7-0.
Aldoff had a feeling something might be special Thursday after watching his team in the morning skate.
“We had a good skate. It did feel a little different,” he said. “We felt a little cloud we were on and we kinda felt we would break out (Thursday) and we did. They needed it.”