By Bill Vilona, Ice Flyers Correspondent
The Ice Flyers will truly start anew in Saturday night’s season-opening game.
A championship banner will be raised during pregame ceremonies at the Pensacola Bay Center. The team will wear special-designed jerseys to commemorate last year’s President’s Cup title and the three previous ones — sure to be hot-selling merchandise among fans.
The game itself against the Birmingham Bulls will feature an all-new lineup of players, after an off-season where assembling a roster for all teams in the Southern Professional Hockey League was challenging.
“It’s just a crazy year for all the guys in our league,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff. “But it is what is and now you have to go out and play. Nothing changes. Same game. Same challenges. Your goals are the same.
“Every year in a way is a new year and a new chapter.”
After playing last season with only the five South Division teams in the SPHL, the league is back as whole, including the new expansion team, the Vermilion County Bobcats, located in Danville, Illinois. It gives the SPHL an 11-team league playing the full amount of 56 games (28 home and away).
The summer months of recruiting players were challenged by the fact a vast majority of collegiate players were staying in school, following the NCAA decision to grant an extra year of eligibility. And with the higher-level ECHL not playing last year, those teams tapped into SPHL teams, including the Ice Flyers, to sign their returning players.
It left every team scrambling to assembling a roster. All of the expected players wearing an Ice Flyers jersey on Saturday night will be making their Ice Flyers debut.
“The thing is, most teams are going to be like that. There is really no one at a real disadvantage,” said Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris. “Everybody was getting their players picked up at the next level and everyone is having to battle through the same things.
“This year, it really is anyone’s (President’s) Cup. There is no one coming in where you say, oh they have a lot of guys returning. But it’s the old cliché of just because you won (championship) last year, it doesn’t meet you are going to win this year.”
Emotions figure to be high Saturday, however, as the Ice Flyers have a final celebratory moment from their championship season, which tied the Knoxville Ice Bears with four championships as the most in SPHL history.
The Ice Flyers will play their first three games at home and eight of their first 11 games at the Bay Center. Next weekend (Oct. 22-23) the Huntsville Havoc visit for games on Friday and Saturday.
The game on Friday will be designated as “Pink In The Rink Night” with fans encouraged to wear pink and players having their sticks taped in pink, along with other uniform essentials in tribute to Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Ice Flyers Season-Opener
WHO: Birmingham Bulls vs. Ice Flyers
WHEN: Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
WHERE: Pensacola Bay Center
TICKETS: $15 and $20
RADIO: Fox Sports Pensacola (101.1 FM and 1450 AM)
PROMOTIONS: First 1,000 fans receive a replica championship banner poster sponsored and printed by Kool Graphics.