By Bill Vilona, Contributing Writer for the Pensacola Ice Flyers
The Ice Flyers had dug deep within themselves and fought back into position Saturday night to possibly attain the comeback win of the season.
What ensued, however, was more bad luck and another excruciating overtime loss at home.
After defenseman Jesse Kessler’s helmet was dislodged, forcing him back to the bench, the Macon Mayhem took advantage of the brief, short-handed, situation to create a wide open look for a skate-off goal in the final minute of overtime for a 4-3 win at the Pensacola Bay Center.
Unfortunately for the Ice Flyers, it made for another empty feeling, despite their rallying from a 3-0 deficit in the third period. They sustained back-to-back overtime losses to Macon, which made it eight OT losses in the past 13 games.
“Jess lost his helmet there deep in our end and in our league, you’ve gotta get off,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff. “The hockey gods aren’t helping us any right now. We’re grinding. The last month or so we’re grinding.
“It’s the heavy part of the season and it happens. Every year I’ve coached, there’s a time when you grind and everything gets a little heavy.”
The burden now is for the Ice Flyers (19-8-10), who have not been able to get a home win since Jan. 10, to overcome the challenge of playing on the road the next six games.
The trip begins Tuesday at Birmingham, then on to play the Huntsville Havoc – a team they are chasing for an upper-tier spot in the Southern Professional Hockey League standings. Three more road games follow in the final week of this month, including another trip to first-place Peoria.
“There are two nets, two blue lines and (center ice) red line in all the rinks, so I think it’s a good thing,” Aldoff said. “For me, the more toughness we can give ourselves in these situations, it will help us later.
“We’re going to Birmingham and it’s a place we’ve had success, so now we have to dig down and own it as a team, own it as individuals.
“For me, I want to win everywhere. I don’t care if we’re playing in China, I want to win. For me, it’s how you play the game. If you play it right, I accept the results if you play the game properly.”
The effort Aldoff saw in the third period, which delighted a crowd of 3,553 at the Bay Center, is something he challenged his team to extend for an entire game.
“It’s almost like they got mad and said enough and just went out and dominated,” Aldoff said. “I guess I have to figure a way to keep them mad before the game and if they can play with that play urgency, that life or death type attitude, it’s fun to watch.
“They dominated. We played a perfect period. But hockey is three periods. That’s the tough part. We are letting teams come here and steal points from us that shouldn’t. But we’ll get there.”
The Ice Flyers began the third period Saturday on a power play. Just as it expired, Tanner Froese scored at 1:43 into the period on a feed from Ray Pigozzi and assist from Nathan Campbell.
Seven minutes later, Blake Young extended the hopes of Ice Flyers fans with his goal on assists from Ryan Marcuz and Craig Cescon.
With about five minutes remaining, Ice Flyers fans erupted when it seemed Garrett Milan had scored a tying goal. But referee Sam Heidermann instantly waved it off. After consultation with the goal judge, along with his linesmen during a timeout, he confirmed his no-goal call.
A slow-motion, television replay, confirmed Heidermann was correct.
The puck hit the top crossbar, an inch or less from the netting, and caromed away. It was exactly how the Ice Flyers bad luck has been frequently occurring.
“He saw it 100 percent,” Aldoff said. “The (goal) light went on (for a second), but he saw it hit the crossbar. It is what it is and you move on.”
The Ice Flyers did so with eventual success. After pulling goaltender Chase Perry in the final 90 seconds, they got a game-tying goal from Tomasso Bucci with 1:03 remaining.
More than four minutes elapsed in overtime with the Ice Flyers getting chances. But Kessler’s misfortune led to Macon’s Caleb Cameron completing a hat trick with his game winning goal.
“The positive thing here… coming out in the third and playing like we did, which was like a different team came out there,” Aldoff said. “It’s frustrating why we can’t do that for 60 minutes.
“I’ve changed lines, tweaked them and as a coach you don’t want to have to do that. But I give (Ice Flyers players) credit, they came out and played a tremendous third period and dominated.
“We’re trying to find a way to do that for three periods and if we do that, then we’re as tough as nails up against anybody. We have a good hockey team with good guys, so we just have to grind and skate our way out of this.
“And we will.”