By Bill Vilona
Ice Flyers Correspondent
The Ice Flyers only gained a point from their weekend pair of home games against the Huntsville Havoc, but they produced more favorable impressions.
“I told the guys, you can’t give any more effort than that,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff, following his team’s 4-3 loss Saturday night against the Havoc at the Pensacola Bay Center.
In facing one of the league’s most experienced teams – the Havoc returned multiple players from a year ago – the Ice Flyers (1-1-1) showed their mettle.
They lost a 4-3 heartbreaker in overtime Friday, after Huntsville tied the game with just four seconds left in regulation play. They trailed 3-1 in the second period Saturday before tying the game to enter the second intermission.
“It was a great building step for our team,” Aldoff said. “I think we took a stride this weekend with getting into tough, tight battles with an experienced team.
“Guys held their own. I really liked the way they played. We’re a young team. There’s a lot of guys new to our league. They got an experienced team and I thought we played ‘em tight.”
One of the players new to professional hockey was goaltender Josh Mayanja, 24, who had not played since early 2020 when he was a senior at Quinnipac (Conn.) University.
Making his debut Saturday, Mayanja stopped 29 shots and kept the Ice Flyers within striking distance. Christian Pavlas, who was in goal when the Ice Flyers won their season opener Oct. 16 against Birmingham, was the goaltender Friday.
“Our goaltenders… both have played well,” Aldoff said. “Josh, it was his first game in a long time. I’m sure there were a little nerves there, but he settled in and made some big saves and did a great job.”
Less than five minutes into the game, Petr Panacek scored his second goal in three games for the Ice Flyers to take a 1-0 lead. Huntsville then answered with three goals, two of those scored by Bauer Neudecker, who played collegiate hockey for Alabama-Huntsville the past three years.
But in the second half of Period 2, the Ice Flyers tied the game.
Brennan Blaszczak, who joined the Ice Flyers earlier in the week and is the only player on the roster from the Ice Flyers championship team last year, scored at 10:26 with assists from Weiland Parrish and Griff Jeszka.
Jeszka then tied the game with two minutes left before intermission.
In the third period, Huntsville seized upon a tripping penalty by Parrish to get a deflection goal with 7:29 remaining from Sy Nutkevitch on the power play.
From that point the Ice Flyers kept pressing, pushing the Havoc in its end of the ice. They pulled Mayanja with 1:38 left and had several good chances.
The best one was with 22 seconds left, following a timeout and a faceoff in the Havoc end. From the left wing circle, the faceoff went to the blueline and sent by a defenseman to Jeszka, who was inside the right circle.
But his shot was snared by Havoc goaltender Max Milosek – one of 31 saves he made in the game.
“We were trying to go to D to D (defenseman to defenseman). It was a good play, a good shot,” Aldoff said “That’s where we wanted the puck to go and it went there. It was great execution.”
“Overall, (Friday) we could have easily walked out of here with a win. We’re a young team learning. And we played an experienced team and could have easily walked with four points.”
The two teams will meet on Oct. 30 in Huntsville.
“I’m flattered by our work ethic,” Aldoff said. “We just need to clean up little things that I expected. Some areas where we were a little sloppy or a little hesitant. It’s just out of nerves. But I’m happy with the way they worked.”
“We turned it on when we needed to… played out of desperation in the last seven, eight minutes. The effort was tremendous all weekend.”
The Ice Flyers will be on the road both games next weekend, facing Birmingham on Saturday. Their next home game is Small Dog Race Night on Nov. 6 against Birmingham.