By Bill Vilona
Ice Flyers Correspondent
On a night when hockey’s amazing 25th Anniversary in Pensacola was honored, the Ice Flyers fittingly made it complete.
With time running out, defenseman Dylan Carabia worked free near the goal cage to flick a shot into the top corner with 1:38 left in overtime, giving the Ice Flyers a 3-2 victory against the Quad City Storm, ending the Storm’s 10-game winning streak.
It made for a joyous ending at the Pensacola Bay Center with the crowd standing, dancing, and players waving sticks in salute.
“We won on a special night, but the big thing is we also played hard,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff, whose team lost in overtime Friday against Quad City, but earned three points in the two-game weekend. “We played hard (Friday) and came up a little short and it left a bad taste in our mouths, but I thought we played a great game again (Saturday).
“We fought. We had a little adversity in the second (period) and let them back in it, but we kept fight, kept battling away and it’s nice to see the guys get rewarded. They deserved it. And it was great to see.”
The Ice Flyers took a 2-0 lead after the first period. They killed off a 5-on-3 disadvantage for nearly two minutes in the second period that could have changed the course of the game.
“That was huge,” Aldoff said. “We didn’t really give them a whole lot and hats off to the guys. They put their bodies on the line. We had some big shots blocked.”
The Storm got a pair of goals in the second half of that period, including one on a power play, to tie the game.
Both goaltenders came up big in the third period. The Ice Flyers killed off the only penalty — Carabia’s hooking call — and the game went into overtime for a second night.
Ice Flyers goaltender Sean Kuhn, a Glens Falls, N.Y. native who was born the same year (1996) the Ice Pilots made their debut, impressed in both games since joining the Ice Flyers late last week. Kuhn was acquired from the Columbus (Ga.) River Dragons in the Federation League. He played four seasons at Nazareth College in New York.
“Sean, for a guy who walked in, basically had two practices… he had an incredible weekend,” Aldoff said. “Great game (Friday and Saturday). Made some huge saves in key moments in the game. I was happy for him.”
Quad City goaltender Bailey Brkin made a great save against Ice Flyers captain Brennan Blaszczak on a one-timer shot near the crease during the overtime Saturday that could have won the game earlier.
Carabia then delivered when the Ice Flyers got their next close-range opportunity.
“Dylan is not an offensive guy, but obviously in a 3-on-3 situation, there is a lot of open ice and a lot of individual hockey that is played,” Aldoff said. “He made a great individual play.”
Smiling, Aldoff added: “I was actually yelling for him to pass to the forward with speed, but he went ahead and scored. It’s nice to see a guy like him get rewarded and it can boost confidence. A guy like him that is a first-year pro it will definitely give him boost of confidence and it was nice to see.”
The players were well-designed, power blue/silver/white jerseys with a logo commemorating the 25th anniversary of hockey in Pensacola emblazoned on the front, along with patches for both Ice Pilots and Ice Flyers franchises on sleeves. Those jerseys were auctioned after the game.
Nine former players of the two teams joined the jubliant Ice Flyers players on the ice for a team photo. Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris organized a weekend event that included both Ice Pilots and Ice Flyers all-time leading scorers — Chad Quenneville and Corey Banfield. The group included Glen Metropolit, who was part of the Ice Pilots original roster in 1996 and went on to play nine seasons in the NHL.
Others participating were goaltenders Sean “Goats” Gauthier (Ice Pilots) and “Big John” McLean (Ice Flyers), along with popular players Dan Buccella, Adam Pawlick, Drew Baker from the Ice Flyers and Louis Dumont from Ice Pilots.
The players visited with fans at a reception prior to Saturday’s game at Seville Quarter. They were introduced to loud applause on the ice before the game and participated in contests during intermission and play stoppages.
Buccella led cheers moments before Carabia’s winning goal, exclaiming, “Nobody comes in here and pushes us around!” as fans chanted “Let’s Go Flyers.”
“You see that kind of unity,” Aldoff said. “It’s a good reason why hockey has been here for so long.”
Aldoff was playing in the ECHL as a defenseman for the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks when the Ice Pilots made their franchise debut in 1996. He later played a season in Pensacola, then became a coach and has led the Ice Flyers to three of their four SPHL titles.
With a team of all new players this season, the Ice Flyers played a pair of hard-fought games against Quad City, the second-best team record-wise in the league.
The Storm’s only regulation-play loss was in the season-opener. They lost the next night in a post-overtime shootout on Oct. 16 and reeled off wins for more than a month, until Saturday’s OT loss. The two games at the Bay Center provided the Ice Flyers with a gauge of where they are right now.
“We’ve got a good team,” Aldoff said. “We’re growing and learning, but we have a good team. We can beat anybody.”
The Ice Flyers will next play the Macon Mayhem at the Pensacola Bay Center on Wednesday in a pre-Thanksgiving night game at 7:05 p.m.