By Bill Vilona – Contributing Writer of the Ice Flyers
In Jake Kupsky’s first game as a college goaltender nearly five years ago, he recorded a shutout.
The ensuing wait made the next one more meaningful, after Kupsky stopped all 23 shots, including several from point-blank range, and even added two assists, in leading the Ice Flyers to a 4-0 win Friday night against the Evansville Thunderbolts at the Pensacola Bay Center.
Hearing the crowd of 3,636, getting the post-game hugs, feeling the joy, all part of a keepsake moment from his first professional shutout and even rarer offensive addition.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” said Kupsky, 24, a Wisconsin native, whose rookie professional season has so far produced a sterling 8-1 record with a 1.76 goals-against average – the best among all goalies in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
“It’s been a long time since I got one (shutout), so that felt really good.”
Friday’s game began a two-game series against Evansville, which is bunched with the Ice Flyers among five teams separated by five points in the top tier of the standings. The teams will meet again at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in the Ice Flyers annual “Mardi Gras Night” theme promotion, complete with on-ice parades and bead throws from the “Krewe of Pucks” between intermissions.
After compiling a home record of 11-1-1 mostly through overtime wins, one-goal wins and much-closer games, the Ice Flyers on Friday produced their largest win margin from a fast start.
Garrett Milan scored just 76 seconds into the game on a play using his speed and moves coming from behind the net, then working free for a wrist shot between the faceoff circles into the net.
Three minutes later, Patrick Megannety finished a Tic-Tac-Toe play after quick, short passes between Tanner Froese to Tommaso Bucci to Megannety resulted in an easy tap-in for the finisher.
“That was huge,” Kupsky said. “Being able to set the tone early. And then backing it up with another (goal).”
Following that sequence, the game was stopped for more than 20 minutes after Milan was checked against the glass on a hard hit, shattering a plexiglass panel. A new one had to be gathered from storage in the Bay Center and ice shavings had to be cleaned up.
“That was a little bit of a deflator,” Kupsky said. “But at the end of the day, you can’t control that, so you just have to just stick with it and wait for that puck to drop again. Can’t get into your own head.”
ICE FLYERS NOTABLES
The game was designated as Tampa Bay Lightning Night with Lightning mascot “Thunderbug” making the trip to Pensacola to entertain.
Former Ice Flyers star Dan Buccella, whose retired jersey hangs from the Bay Center rafters, was part of the ceremonial opening faceoff with his young son dropping the puck.
In the second period, a crowd-stirring fight between the Ice Flyers Meirs Moore and Evansville’s Noah Corson resulted in both players landing punches to each other’s face and going at it for short while.