By Bill Vilona
Ice Flyers Correspondent
With his team dealt some early-season adversity, including missing some top players, it provided Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff another teaching moment following Friday’s 4-3 loss in an extended, overtime shootout against Birmingham at the Pensacola Bay Center.
“As I told them (in post game address), when we look at the last three games, we really have made the game hard on ourselves,” said Aldoff, whose team’s 3-0 start to the season has now been followed by a trio of defeats.
“We’ve had teams before and we’ve gone through this,” he said. “You have to understand what it takes to win. When you simplify the game of hockey, it works better. Some of the younger guys are learning that.”
Lessons came in dramatic ways.
The Bulls thought they had won the game 14 seconds into overtime. After controlling the faceoff, they worked into the Ice Flyers zone and quickly had a shot into the net.
But after the Bulls celebrated, then exited the ice, the officials conferred and waved off the goal, realizing the goal cage had come off its mooring.
The Birmingham players had to be summoned back.
”It should have been blown (signal for disallowed goal) immediately,” Aldoff said. “Whether (Bulls) had an opportunity to score on first chance, the net was already sitting up, so it should have been blown down quickly.
“But it is what it is. (Officials) made the right call.”
The Ice Flyers later had to kill off a penalty that led into the final minute of the five-minute overtime. In the shootout, both goaltenders came up big.
The Ice Flyers’ Taran Kozun, 26, added this week after starting goaltender Jake Kupsky was called up to the higher level ECHL, stopped the first seven shooters in overtime.
But the Ice Flyers could not solve Birmingham’s Lavigne Hayden, who stopped 42 of 45 shots in regulation play, then all eight Ice Flyers shooters in overtime.
The Bulls Kasey Kulczycki rifled a shot through Kozun’s legs as their eighth shooter, and Hayden stopped Pensacola’s Alec Hagaman for a second time to secure the win. The Ice Flyers gained a point with the regulation tie.
The Ice Flyers played without Eddie Matsushima and team captain Garrett Milan, the two leading points producers in the SPHL. Plus they were without defenseman Nick Nelville, whose six assists are tops in the league.
Aldoff didn’t say the reason for their absence, but added, “we hope to get some guys back next week.”
He also said, “(Birmingham) was without some of their guys, too.”
In a year where the Southern Professional Hockey League is competing with only half its teams, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to present challenges. The Ice Flyers were to play at Macon on Sunday, but that game has been postponed. Macon’s game Saturday against Birmingham is also postponed.
The Ice Flyers (3-2-1) will now prepare for next weekend’s games in Knoxville, Tenn. against the Ice Bears. Knoxville has played the fewest games (4) in the league.
“We’ll take that stuff as it comes,” Aldoff said, referring to scheduling changes. “We just have to get some guys healthy. We’ll keep working to get better and better.”
Friday’s game was played in a 4 on 4 format after the SPHL opted earlier to make the change in game management this weekend.
It began in a rough way for the Ice Flyers. The Bulls scored on their first shot, just over a minute into the first period.
After the Ice Flyers Kyle Froese scored his first goal on a power play, at 3:13 into the period, the Bulls answered less than seconds later to retake the lead.
The Ice Flyers tied the game early in the second period on newcomer Jake Wahlin’s first goal, but Birmingham answered later in the period to retake the lead. The Ice Flyers tied the game on newcomer Michael Chen’s first goal less than three minutes into the final period and the score remained that way through regulation play.
“We got down with some tough mistakes,” Aldoff said. “But (Ice Flyers) fought back. You got to give the guys credit, they fought back. And we got a big point out of it.
“I felt the way we played overall was good. I thought we had plenty of opportunities to open that game up, especially in that second period with all the breakaways and we just couldn’t score. Even in the shootout with breakaways, of course. Guys are working… they are giving the best.”
Jan. 22-23 – Ice Flyers at Knoxville Ice Bears.
Jan. 29 – Birmingham at Pensacola (Tampa Bay Lightning Night)
Jan. 30 – Macon at Pensacola (Mardi Gras Night).