PENSACOLA, Fla. – The Ice Flyers come into this weekend having the Southern Professional Hockey League’s lowest games played. That’s what happens when Cirque du Soleil takes over the ice in the Pensacola Bay Center and a scheduling quirk kept the Ice Flyers off the SPHL schedule.
A lack of practice ice in Pensacola isn’t anything new for Pensacola, but usually, the schedule has the Ice Flyers on the road so the team has been able to practice in other teams’ arenas or at NHL practice arenas. Head coach Rod Aldoff said the Ice Flyers coped by working hard with dry-land workouts at the gym. The team also bussed up I-65 for a couple of skates at the Pelham Civic Complex on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.
This week, the Ice Flyers got into Fayetteville early and were able to have practices at the Crown Coliseum on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Ice Flyers signed two new forwards this week in Matt Ustaski and Taylor Best.
Ustaski is going to be hard to miss on the ice. He measures in at 6-foot-6, 220-pounds and comes to the Ice Flyers after spending last season with the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen. Ustaski is a former draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets. Jacksonville is the ECHL affiliate of Winnipeg but Ustaski never signed a contract with Winnipeg. He played 14 games, scoring five goals and adding two assists, for the Icemen and one game with the Manitoba Moose after the conclusion of his senior season at the University of Wisconsin in 2017-18. He returned to Jacksonville for 2018-19 and he appeared in only seven games all season due to an injury. In those seven games, he managed to pick up three assists.
Prior to joining the Ice Flyers this season, Ustaski appeared in three games for the ECHL Norfolk Admirals and had just one assist.
Best is a true rookie who will make his professional debut this weekend with the Ice Flyers. Last season, he was a senior for NCAA Division I Mercyhurst University. Over his four seasons with the Lakers, Best played in 120 games and had an impressive 82 points (38 goals, 44 assists). Best doesn’t have the size that Ustaski has (he’s listed at 5-foot-10,) but he certainly has the skill necessary to be a threat at the SPHL level.
Aldoff is expecting both Ustaski and Best to be weapons for the Ice Flyers moving forward. He stated, “Matt and Taylor are here and they should add some skill to our team. They’ve played a lot of good hockey at high levels, so I expect them to bring skill and experience with them here.”
Kupsky Still Out
It appears the Ice Flyers will not have the services of goalie Jake Kupsky again this weekend. When asked about the status of Kupsky, Aldoff simply said, “Kupsky won’t be playing this weekend.”
As of right now, the team hasn’t announced who will be dressed as the second goalie alongside Chase Perry and there is nothing on the league transaction list but there will have to be an answer by game time.
How Will They Matchup
Granted this is an extremely limited sample size (Pensacola has only two games while Fayetteville has only played four games,) but the teams are neck and neck in the power-play rankings. The Marksmen are currently fourth in the league with four goals on 20 attempts (20.00%) while Pensacola is fifth with two goals in 11 attempts (18.18%).
When it comes to the penalty kill, the Marksmen are again fourth with a success rate of 87.50%, two power-play goals allowed on 16 times shorthanded. Pensacola has been successful 83.33% of the time allowing one goal on only six times shorthanded.
Between the pipes, Fayetteville has relied on Danny Tirone and he’s managed to earn at least a point in each of the Marksmen’s games so far going 3-0-1 with a 2.21 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. For Pensacola, Perry has played every second for the Ice Flyers with a 2-0-0 record, a 1.49 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.
Faceoff for the first of two matchups is set for 7 pm ET tonight, while the rematch is scheduled to get going at 6 pm ET tomorrow night.
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