By Bill Vilona, Contributing Writer for the Pensacola Ice Flyers
Pensacola, Fla. (March 8, 2020) – On a night for a special cause, the Ice Flyers ended their home struggles with a performance to remember.
They exploded for three goals within a near three-minute span in the first period, then never lapsed, which led into a resounding 7-2 victory Saturday against first-place Fayetteville that made a unique Autism Awareness Night at the Pensacola Bay Center even more meaningful.
“Obviously, we had new fans, kids at the game and these specialty nights like this, it’s always nice to play a great hockey game for them,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff. “At the end of the day, it’s for the fans and it’s nice to put a good show on and win big like we did.”
The Ice Flyers won their first home game since Jan. 10 by producing the most goals and biggest score separation all season.
It was as thorough, as complete of a victory, as the outcome indicates.
“It was 60 minutes of keeping the pedal down from when they dropped the puck to the very end,” Aldoff said. “We didn’t get too high, too low. We stayed even keel and played hard .
“Consistency in any business is good, especially in the sports business, the hockey business. We were physical. We hit when we should. We were hard in our end, hard in the offensive end, hard in the neutral zone and (Ice Flyers players) got the results.”
A crowd of 3,594, many of whom remained well after the game for the custom-made, jersey auction that generated thousands of dollars for Autism Pensacola and its charitable efforts, reveled in a long-awaited chance to enjoy a home win.
The night raised $25,229 for Autism Pensacola through online/post-game jersey auctions, in-game raffles and Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris donating $1 for all seats sold.
“Very special night,” Aldoff said.
The home weekend against Fayetteville concludes Sunday with a 4:05 p.m. game that includes promotional activities around team mascot Maverick’s birthday and a post-game autograph session with players on the concourse.
Ice Flyers fans stayed active Saturday night with their special goal-celebration dance throughout the game.
“We talked in the locker room a lot that we wanted to play our game, our way,” said Ice Flyers winger and assistant captain Brett D’Andrea, who scored two of the first three goals. “And that’s play hard, physical. Getting pucks deep and capitalizing on our opportunities.
“It just emphasizes the fact that when we play our game, we are a tough team to beat.”
D’Andrea, the Ice Flyers’ second-leading scorer, embodied the way his team came out flying Saturday and ensuring this would be a different kind of game.
The Ice Flyers so controlled the first 10 minutes, they had nine shots on goal and Fayetteville had zero. With the next close-range chance, D’Andrea put a shot into the net with seven minutes left in the period to ignite the goal barrage.
Fifty seconds later, Nathan Campbell followed with a goal. And two minutes, 38 seconds later, D’Andrea scored his second goal with assist from rookie Brennan Blaszczak and Tanner Froese, who had three assists in the game.
After Fayetteville put a brief silence by scoring with 56 seconds left in the first period, Blaszczak continued his newcomer impact by scoring on a feed from Froese with eight seconds left before intermission.
“Urgency, just urgency,” said Aldoff on the difference from past home games. “The first period was great, the second period was great, the third period was great. That’s what I wanted to see from (Friday) night.
“I give (team) credit. We had a tough talk. They took it upon themselves and stepped up and did what they did. That says a lot about our team as competitors. It was a great hockey game.”
Within the first eight minutes of the second period, the Ice Flyers created a blowout. Connor Powell, playing in just his second professional game since joining the Ice Flyers after his collegiate career recently ended at Elmira (NY) College, scored at 6:43 of the period.
Patrick Megannety then followed with an unassisted goal. Powell finished off the scoring with a goal with 2:59 left in the game on assists from fellow rookie Anthony Parrucci and Michael Ederer.
The Ice Flyers peppered two Fayetteville goaltenders with 47 shots in the game. But unlike so many other games when the Ice Flyers generated 40 or more shots, they lit the goal lamp with far greater proficiency.
“It is obviously frustrating when you are not scoring,” D’Andrea said. “Because we have good guys, all skilled guys, who can score and when they are not going in, you start looking at what are you doing wrong.”
They did it right Saturday on long-planned initiative by team owner Greg Harris to give back to a non-profit organization like Autism Pensacola that does so much for the community.
“Especially on a night like (Saturday), it was great to do it for the fans,” D’Andrea said. “But it felt good for us too to finally get that puck in the net. We wanted to stay even keel and show we can be elite team.”
ICE FLYERS NOTABLES
Cate Merrill, the president and chief executive officer of Autism Pensacola, joined with a young child to drop the puck in the ceremonial opening faceoff.
Merrill then did an on-ice interview with the Ice Flyers’ game emcee during the first intermission to explain the various ways Autism Pensacola impacts the community.
Blue Wahoos owner Quint Studer, who along with his wife, Rishy, helped to start Autism Pensacola, attended Saturday’s game wearing an Ice Flyers jersey. He joined Paul Chestnutt, the Ice Flyers radio announcer, on the WPNN broadcast during the first period.
The Studers’ daughter, Mallory, chairwoman of the Autism Pensacola board, was part of a large contingent of volunteers and executive committee members of the organization attending the game.
The specialty, multi-colored jerseys worn by the players were designed by Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris and were in popular demand during the online and post-game auctions. Harris said he will continue to have a one-night initiative each year to support a local, non-profit, charitable organization in the same way as Saturday’s Autism Awareness Night.
“The response was phenomenal,” he said.