LAFAYETTE, LA — The SPHL saved the biggest trade of the 2017 offseason for last. After a quiet summer, the Pensacola Ice Flyers blasted the sirens by dealing for the reigning Most Valuable Player and Goalie of the Year Sean Bonar. The trade, announced today by both the Ice Flyers and Fayetteville Marksmen, sends Bonar to the Gulf Coast in exchange for center Massimo Lamacchia and defenseman Brad Bourke.
The deal is a rarity at any level of professional hockey. The Bonar trade is the first in league history involving an incumbent SPHL MVP or Goalie of the Year during the following offseason.
Bonar earned the league’s top honors last season, setting regular season records for wins and minutes played. The Delta, British Columbia, native appeared in 49 of Fayetteville’s 56 games last season for a record 2956:17 of playing time with a 32-15-2 record, a stellar 2.07 GAA, and an equally impressive .927 save percentage. Bonar’s 32 wins shattered the previous record of 28 wins in a season, shared by Pensacola’s Max Strang in the 2014-15 season and Terry Denike during the Florida Seals 2005-06 campaign.
In exchange for the All-SPHL netminder, the Marksmen receive a solid playmaking center in Lamacchia and two-way defenseman in Bourke. Both players, initially teammates with the Louisiana IceGators, were acquired by Pensacola via trades last season – Lamacchia from the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs and Bourke from the Evansville Thunderbolts. Last season, Lamacchia scored 16 goals and 31 assists while Bourke contributed seven goals and assisted on 24.
The biggest question involving Bonar right now is will he be on Pensacola’s roster on opening night. On September 18th, Bonar – following Bourke on August 15th – signed with the ECHL Fort Wayne Komets where he has a shot of earning his first full-time roster spot in the Komets’ training camp next week. Bonar joins the 2015-16 SPHL MVP and Goalie of the Year Garrett Bartus and 2013-14 NCAA champion Alex Sakellaropoulos in Fort Wayne’s goalie competition in camp this season. Bartus arrived in Fort Wayne last season after being called up to fill in for an injured Pat Nagle and wound up winning a full-time roster spot with the Komets. Bartus finished the season with a 21-7-1 record with a 2.68 GAA and .905 SV%. In Sakellaropoulos’ final year at Union College, the senior earned a nomination for the NCAA’s most outstanding goaltender with a 22-6-2 mark, a 2.60 GAA, and a .916 SV%.
Should Komets coach Gary Graham elect to go with the veteran Bartus and rookie Sakellaropolous this season, Bonar will provide a significant upgrade to Pensacola’s excellent tandem of Matt Zenzola and John McLean. The Ice Flyers’ twin towers combined for a 27-18-7 record, 2.43 GAA, and .913 SV% in 3184:05 minutes of action last season. McLean announced his retirement over the summer and Zenzola is not expected to return to the Ice Flyers.
A big plus for Pensacola is Bonar’s familiarity with new Ice Flyers coach Jeff Bes. Bes was Bonar’s coach in Fayetteville for the past two seasons. If Bonar winds up in Pensacola after Fort Wayne’s training camp and if Bes can build a defensive system around Bonar as he had in Fayetteville, look for the netminder to make around 45 starts in the Ice Flyers’ crease and put up similar numbers from last season.
In Fayetteville, Both Lamacchia and Bourke will reunite with former Ice Gators teammate Jake Hauswirth. Bourke is a familiar name to some Fayetteville fans, appearing in three games with the FireAntz during the 2015-16 season. Both newcomers will have big shoes to fill with the Marksmen. Lamacchia is a shorter, stockier version of Tayler Thompson – the kind of player with a nose for the net, the willingness to grind in the dirty areas and generate scoring chances for teammates, and refuse to shy away from a physical game. Thompson used this formula last season to lead the SPHL in scoring with 18 goals and 42 assists while amassing 125 penalty minutes. Lamacchia has the potential to be a 50-point player this season. Bourke is like a quicker Nick Rivait. Both defensemen specialized in two-way play and are excellent special teams contributors. Five of Bourke’s seven goals last season came on special teams, including one shorthanded tally.
Heading into training camp, opening in less than two weeks, both the Marksmen and Ice Flyers have unquestioned #1 starters in net. On August 10th, Fayetteville acquired Peter Di Salvo from the Mississippi RiverKings for Rivait and Graeme Strukoff, with both defensemen currently playing overseas. The fifth-year pro split time with Brad Barone in Southaven last season, appearing in 20 games with a 12-5-1 record, with an uncharacteristic 2.96 GAA and .900 SV% after battling through a preseason injury.
There’s a surprise winner in today’s blockbuster deal: Di Salvo. Throughout his career, Di Salvo has had to platoon with other netminders laced with call-ups to the ECHL. Marksmen fans will have to see if Di Salvo can return to his 2013-15 form when he was a top-five SPHL netminder. With today’s moves, Marksmen coach Nick Mazzolini is going to give Di Salvo every opportunity to return to form.