The Pensacola Ice Flyers secured their fourth President’s Cup Final berth Saturday night in Southaven, and took the long road doing so. The Mississippi RiverKings gave the Flyers all they could handle before eventually falling early in the second overtime period. Pensacola rookie Brandon Zurn scored the series clinching goal 83:13 into the game to send the Ice Flyers to face the Peoria Rivermen in the SPHL President’s Cup Final. The Ice Flyers will make their fourth appearance in the past five seasons, and will attempt to win their third President’s Cup – second only to the Knoxville Ice Bears four titles.
The beginning of Game Two at Landers Center featured plenty of end-to-end action, with both teams combining for 28 shots on goal during the opening period. The Banfield-Pawlick-Caveney line, mostly silent this postseason, connected twice in the first period on a pair of Corey Banfield goals at the 4:00 and 17:22 marks. The RiverKings kept the game close after a tripping call on the Ice Flyers’ Josh Cousineau resulted in a power play goal from Mississippi blueliner Sam Higgins at the 16:18 mark.
Play during the second period got a bit sloppier, and both teams were hit with penalties throughout the period. Both teams were able to capitalise on the other’s missteps. Pensacola’s Joe Holka and Adam Pawlick converted on the two of four RiverKings minor penalties in the middle frame, while Mississippi’s Cullen Bradshaw scored on one of their two power plays. The Ice Flyers led 4-2 after 40 minutes of play.
The RiverKings then thrilled the Landers Center crowd with a third-period comeback. Todd Hosmer cut the Pensacola lead in half with an early goal at the 4:55 mark, but the Flyers would answer about seven minutes later on Ryan Kesti’s marker with 7:54 remaining in regulation. The Kings’ late-game heroics were provided by Devin Mantha, who brought Mississippi to within a goal of Pensacola with a tally with 2:30 remaining. After Mississippi coach Derek Landmesser pulled goalie Peter Di Salvo with 86 seconds left in regulation, the Kings drew a crucial slashing penalty from Pensacola defenseman Drew Baker. Mississippi would need only 17 seconds of 6-on-4 hockey to make Baker pay for his penalty, as Mantha would send the game to overtime with his second goal of the period with 57 seconds remaining in regulation.
Pensacola dictated most of the play in the first overtime period, but was unable to convert on a pair of power play opportunities. Likewise, the RiverKings also failed to score on an overtime power play chance. Play continued in the second overtime period until Zurn, with assists from Anthony Calabrese and Baker, ended the RiverKings’ season. Pensacola won the game, 6-5, and the series, 2-0.
The 2016 President’s Cup Final – extended to a best-of-five series thanks to an agreement between Pensacola and Peoria – will begin on Saturday, April 30, at Peoria’s Carver Arena. Stay tuned to The Sin Bin for our extensive coverage of what is shaping up to be an exciting President’s Cup Final series.