PENSACOLA, Fla. — The Pensacola Ice Flyers enter the 2019-20 season in a similar way they started the 2013-14 season. A team coached by Rod Aldoff, an almost entirely new roster, and a ton of expectations. That’s where the changes begin. In 2013-14, the expectation was to win another championship. That’s always the goal for every hockey team, but for this year’s Ice Flyers team, the hope is to win more games en route to another championship. Another finish of two games over 0.500 will not be acceptable.
Nuts and Bolts:
Record: 26-24-6 (7th in SPHL)
Playoff Finish: Eliminated in the first round two-games-to-one by Huntsville
Goals For Per Game: 2.55, (T-8th in SPHL)
Goals Against Per Game: 2.68, (3rd in SPHL)
Power Play: 29/197, 14.7% (9th in SPHL)
Penalty Kill: 160/192, 83.3% (3rd in SPHL)
As is usual with a Rod Aldoff team, the 2019-20 Ice Flyers will not sacrifice defense. Last year’s team showed that. The team struggled offensively for large parts of the 2018-19 season and had trouble finding a steady presence in the crease until Brian Billett took the reins. The defense played solid whether the goalie behind them was making the routine saves or not. This season’s D corps is complete with the trusted returner (Jesse Kessler), the wily veteran (Craig Cescon), and new faces with high-level experience.
Until the start of training camp, the Ice Flyers’ goalie situation was a mystery to everyone outside of the organization. One look at the names on the initial roster and one name, Angus Redmond, seemed to be the favorite to lock up the starting goalie spot. Redmond didn’t participate in the Ice Flyers’ preseason game against Birmingham. In the past, it has been a sign that Aldoff has found his number one and is using the game to evaluate who will be number two. Redmond looks like he will be the team’s starter come Friday night.
The offensive talent on this roster looks to be spread throughout the lineup. It seems like the Ice Flyers can roll three lines, which all contribute while still having defensively-responsible forward or an energy line. Rookies like Tommaso Bucci (played a defensive role his entire career and put up 17 points as a senior) and Michael Ederer (same as Bucci but had 14 points as a senior) bring high-level experience. Both played four seasons at NCAA Division I schools against current and future NHLers. Returner Patrick Megannety earned his paycheck during his time in the ECHL by playing a defensively smart game while also being able to contribute offensively. Factor in forwards who can be relied upon for their consistent scoring (Eddie Matsushima, Ryan Marcuz, Roman Uchyn) and the Ice Flyers will have a balanced offensive attack.
“The team looks very motivated and dedicated. I’m looking for a strong start. We have a young team but they’re focused and ready to build toward a championship season.” — Head Coach Rod Aldoff
Angus Redmond – Redmond’s past seems to scream that he’ll be a great SPHL goaltender. Redmond saw time last year with three different ECHL teams as well as San Diego in the American Hockey League. He set a school record for wins by a freshman in his only year at Michigan Tech. Everything points to SPHL success between the pipes with the Ice Flyers.
Craig Cescon – Cescon’s whole North American career has been played at the AA level. He brings vast experience, and it would not be surprising to see him eat up a ton of minutes on the Ice Flyers’ top pairing.
Eddie Matsushima – The SPHL’s past has been riddled with guys who enter the league and light the lamp with regularity right after their college season. The real test comes when the other players in the league get more looks and get to know tendencies and weaknesses. Time will tell if Matsushima can continue his hot hand at the SPHL level, but things are looking good.
Gone but Not Forgotten:
Brian Billett – Billett’s 19-10-5 record is a little misleading. He was one of the top goalies in the league who fell victim to the team’s low goal output. Billett’s decision to retire meant the Ice Flyers had to hit the reset button.
Jason Price – You’ll be hard-pressed to find a player more responsible for the Ice Flyers turnaround into the hottest team in the league. The veteran presence was a stabilizing force both in the locker room and on the ice. His return to Knoxville this off-season was not a surprise, but it’s a big hole to fill in the Ice Flyers’ lineup.
Josh Cousineau – Speaking of an experienced player leaving a hole in the lineup, long-time Ice Flyers forward signed with the Macon Mayhem in the off-season. The hero from the Ice Flyers’ last championship always had a knack for scoring at critical moments while also being a massive pest.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
I can see the Ice Flyers returning to form as a typical Rod Aldoff coached team and battle with the likes of Peoria, Birmingham, and Huntsville for the top of the league. I think the Ice Flyers finish top three in the league during the regular season, and with this defensive corps playing lock-down post-season hockey, a trip to the President’s Cup final wouldn’t surprise me.