By Bill Vilona – Ice Flyers Correspondent
As Darren McCormick whirled around the center faceoff circle, he ran his hand each time underneath his stick blade to clean it off.
It only looked like he was sharpening a dagger.
McCormick, a well-traveled minor league hockey veteran, produced a team franchise memory Saturday night, after scoring all four times he touched the puck in a post-overtime, extended shootout that lifted the Ice Flyers to a dramatic 2-1 win against the Macon Mayhem.
Four chances. Twice in a score-or-lose situation. Four times he lit the goal lamp. The last one, a skate-off winner that sent the crowd of 2,754 into excited frenzy at the Pensacola Bay Center.
“(Pressure situation) is a little shaky, a little nerve wracking, but I live for it,” said McCormick, 27, a Buffalo, New York native, who has played for five different teams in the Southern Professional Hockey League. “But that is the fun of the game.
“I’m very competitive. I just want to help my team win and I’m glad I had a chance to do that.”
The game was scoreless for the first two and a half periods. Then it got wild in the last nine minutes and through a shootout lasting through eight shooters.
“It was a tight hockey game,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff. “Both teams played pretty similar. A hard fought game.
“It’s only fitting it came down to a shootout. I’m glad we were on the right side of it. But I thought it was a good hockey battle, a good battle early in the season like this.”
By picking all four points with a pair of weekend wins, the Ice Flyers moved into first place in the SPHL standings as the schedule completed its first full month.
“(Mayhem) are skilled team,” McCormick said. “It wasn’t an easy win, but I am glad we gutted it out.”
About an hour earlier, the Ice Flyers were on their way to a grinding, regulation-game win.
Zach Walker scored his first professional goal, finishing a breakaway rush to the net following a pass from Brennan Blaszczak with 9:38 remaining.
A minute later, the Ice Flyers were facing a 5-on-3 disadvantage. After only four power plays and six total penalties were called to that point, suddenly two tripping penalties were whistled against the Ice Flyers within a 53-second span.
The Ice Flyers defense, however, led by the continued stellar play from goaltender Chase Perry, thwarted off Macon and regained an emotional edge.
The Mayhem kept pressing and were rewarded when Stephen Pierog tied the game with 3:19 left.
Both teams’ goaltenders came up big in the overtime, leading to the shootout.
McCormick started first for the Ice Flyers and slipped a back shot past Macon goalie Jake Theut. The next time he was summoned as a sixth shooter, McCormick needed to extend the game, which he did with a second goal.
Same scenario unfolded the next shot as Aldoff opted to stick with McCormick. Then Perry stuffed Macon’s eighth shooter and McCormick produced the shootout silencer.
“I guess you kinda ride the wave,” said Aldoff of his choice to keep sending McCormick as shooter. “He had a feel for it, a feel for that goaltender, and you gotta just let him go and do his thing.
“Darren’s a skilled player. Those are the type of things that are right up his alley. He’s got that capability.
All four times on the free breakaway, McCormick used different moves to score. It’s something he picked up after constantly studying goalies during summer camp work.
“I have worked with a goaltending clinic over the summers for the past 10 years or so and I just get a lot of reps to be creative and mess around with it,” he said. “Thankfully that puck didn’t roll away..
“It is kinda like a little bit of column A and column B. I have a set few moves that I like to do. I’m kinda like, all right I’m going to go in and do this move, and if the goalie is taking that away, I have option B.”
He laughed when asked about the routine of cleaning off the stick blade before the shot, as if brandishing a sword.
“The ice is a little chippy and soft and I was just trying to make sure there is nothing to cause (puck) to roll away,”
On a roll is Perry between the pipes. He has now allowed just one goal in each of the last three games, all wins.
“He had a couple tough games at the start of the year. And then he got healthy,” Aldoff said. “You look at his last three games and he’s probably one of our best players on the ice. You need that.
“Especially in a game like that, a tight game where offense is tough to come by. You need your goalie to be your best player.”