PENSACOLA, Fla. – Last year was a season with so much promise. Under Jeff Bes, a former SPHL Coach of the Year, and players like goaltender Sean Bonar, who Bes brought with him from his stint in Fayetteville the year prior, the Ice Flyers looked poised to return to the top of the heap in the SPHL standings and jumped out to a 7-0-0 start. A 17-4-2 record in 2017 was followed by a pedestrian 16-12-5 record in 2018. After a season that saw nearly 50 players don Pensacola sweaters and an unceremonious first-round playoff ouster by Knoxville, the promise was gone.
Enter head coach Rod Aldoff. Again.
After what was described as a “mutual parting” between Bes and the Ice Flyers, the team called on Aldoff to lead the team for the third time in the past six seasons. He has had his share of success with the Ice Flyers, winning two Presidents Cups with the team in 2014 and 2016. After a failed ECHL coaching stint in Norfolk to begin the 2016-17 season, Aldoff returned to Pensacola to guide them the rest of the way after Kevin Hasselberg was fired midseason.
With another full season to install his systems and coaching style, Aldoff looks to bring the Ice Flyers back to the success they enjoyed earlier in the decade with three championships in four seasons.
Nuts and Bolts:
Last Season Record: 33-16-7
League Finish: T-2nd, SPHL (lost tie-breaker to Macon to finish 3rd)
Playoff Finish: Lost to Knoxville in the first round
Goals For Per Game: 3.38 (6th, SPHL)
Goals Against Per Game: 2.79 (2nd, SPHL)
Power Play: 14.2% (33/232; 10th, SPHL)
Penalty Kill: 81.9% (208/254; 5th, SPHL)
MAKE SPECIAL TEAMS GREAT AGAIN: Aldoff right away will have a project to work on with Pensacola’s special teams. The Ice Flyers were dead last in the league on the power play last season, a statistic that was near the top of the league during Aldoff’s previous tenure with the team. Look for a vast improvement this season in that category, aided by key pickups at forward.
(RIVER)KINGS OF SCORING: The top six scorers on the Pensacola roster last season did not return to the team this season. Enter the trio of Matt Harrington, Ryan Marcuz, and Brantley Sherwood, three forwards who played for the now-defunct Mississippi RiverKings last season. The three bring a combined 49 goals and 109 points of offense from last season in Southaven to the team. The chemistry among the three should place them ahead of the learning curve to start the season; a power play unit led by that trio isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
STOP THE BACKSTOP TURNOVER: It is hard to believe the team started last season with the reigning Goaltender of the Year in Bonar, who picked up two shutouts in his first four games to go 4-0-0 before being called up to the ECHL. After Bonar, the team went through eight other goaltenders the rest of the season. Gordon Defiel had the most success of the bunch, but he left for the ECHL in midseason and was then acquired by Macon in the offseason. Brian Billett is the lone holdout from last season, who had his worst season of his three in the league last year after two standout years between the pipes for Knoxville. The team also acquired Andrew D’Agostini last week, a former two-year starter for the ECHL Brampton Beast. With Billett and D’Agostini, the Ice Flyers enter the season with two proven starting goaltenders.
“It’s different, but it’s not different…my job coming in is to do the same thing I have done every day and get the best players I can here,” Aldoff told the Pensacola News Journal.
Harrington, Marcuz, Sherwood – It will be fun whenever the three former RiverKings are on the ice together this season for the Ice Flyers, providing a much-needed offensive shot in the arm. Seeing them finish 1-2-3 in scoring for the team in any order would not be a stretch.
Nathan Bruyere – Look for a breakout season for Bruyere under Aldoff’s defensive systems. A 20-point scorer last season, Bruyere should see a bump in those numbers as the top blueliner for Pensacola heading into the season and the likely quarterback for the Ice Flyers’ special teams.
John Schiavo – A late acquisition for the Ice Flyers in training camp, the journeyman forward begins this season playing for his fifth SPHL team in four seasons after stops in Macon, Huntsville, Mississippi, and Fayetteville. He remarkably averaged over a point a game last year on a terrible Marksmen team (29 games, 31 points). Given a full season with a much more talented Pensacola team this season, Schiavo’s ceiling looks high, and he may challenge the Mississippi trio for scoring accolades on the team.
Gone but Not Forgotten:
Garrett Milan – The SPHL leader in assists from last season now calls Europe home.
Jessyko Bernard – Not only did Pensacola have the league leader in assists last season but the league leader in goals as well in Bernard. The gifted forward headed back overseas to play in France this year after a stint in that country two seasons ago.
Defiel – Defiel led the team in wins, appearances, and minutes last season in net for the Ice Flyers prior to heading elsewhere in the Sunshine State for the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears. Defiel’s departure to Macon in the offseason opens the door for either Brian Billett or Andrew D’Agostini to take the reins as Pensacola’s #1 goaltender.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
The Ice Flyers have legitimate offensive weapons this season courtesy of some shrewd offseason acquisitions. With solid goaltending in place and an improved defensive scheme under Aldoff, Pensacola should return to its success of past seasons. How deep of a playoff run the Ice Flyers make will be determined by the number of players the ECHL poaches from Pensacola during the season.
What do you think? Let us know how you think the Ice Flyers will do!