HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – It seemed like every SPHL fan had Saturday night circled on the calendars. The date was circled on January 16, when the Pensacola Ice Flyers signed Jason Price. For those who haven’t paid a lot of attention, here’s a brief recap on Jason Price.
On March 12, 2017, Price was playing for the Knoxville Ice Bears. In the final minute of a 6-2 loss to the Huntsville Havoc, Price shot a puck in the direction of the Havoc bench. In doing so, the puck struck Huntsville trainer, Jason Lopez in the head. Lopez suffered a bloodied head on the night and still suffers from hearing loss. The next day, the SPHL suspended Price indefinitely, that indefinite suspension came to an end on January 16.
On the day his signing was announced, a lot of folks, including myself, considered it to be a high risk, high reward move. The risk being that one false move by Price would probably net him another permanent suspension. The reward being that Pensacola was getting a veteran player who would bring leadership to a team that had struggled all season long.
After Saturday night’s game I had a chance to speak with Ice Flyers coach, Rod Aldoff about the signing of Jason Price and why take the risk:
“No risk, no risk for me,” Aldoff said. “I didn’t look at it as risking signing Jason. Jason’s been a very good player in the league for a long time. He’s a good man, he’s a good veteran and something we we’re looking for.”
March 2 was the date everyone was looking towards for one reason, and one reason only. It was the day Jason Price returned to the “scene of the crime,” the Von Braun Center. It was expected, and rightly so, that the return would not be welcomed. There were thoughts that from opening face-off to the final whistle, Price would have to fight his way throughout the game.
As it turns out, the hype, the talks about the return of Price was really much ado about nothing. Other than a few signs from fans, and booing of Price during player introductions and every time he touched the puck, there was nothing to be seen or heard. For 60 minutes of regulation hockey and another four-minutes and thirty-three seconds of overtime hockey, you would have never known he was on the ice, except for the loud booing from the 4,700+ fans in attendance.
Talking with Havoc Coach Glenn Detulleo after the game about the return:
“I think we’ve barely got anyone on the team that was there,” Detulleo said. “Like we talked about, it was really a non-story for us. It was just a hockey game, and we’re trying to win a hockey game.”
Speaking of the hockey game that was actually played. It was St. Jude’s Night in Huntsville. The Havoc were wearing special purple and white jerseys that were auctioned off after the game. The game started with an emotional video in tribute of Sydney Cunningham. Sydney was a patient at St. Jude and was part of one of the promotions the Havoc do on St. Jude night where a patient gets to paint with a member of the Havoc. She was supposed to be in attendance last season for the St. Jude game but woke up that morning feeling ill. She would be diagnosed with pneumonia and would lose her battle with cancer the next day. After the video that had tears flowing throughout the arena, her parents, Eric and Tamisha Cunningham did the ceremonial puck drop.
Once eyes dried, the actual puck was dropped and a game began. The Ice Flyers struck first on a goal from TJ Sarcona midway into the first period. Matt Johnson made it 2-0 in favor of Pensacola, just 44 seconds into the second period. Huntsville got on the board when Scott Trask pounded home a rebound. The Ice Flyers leading scorer, Nathan Bruyere made it a 3-1 game with 1:55 remaining in the second. The Havoc are a play-the-full-60-team and tonight showed that again. In a matter of just 26 seconds, the Havoc went from trailing 3-1 to going into the second intermission tied 3-3. Ryan Salkeld scored 19:34 into the second period and Christian Powers tapped in a rebound with .1 second left in the period.
After a scoreless third period, the game went to overtime. With time winding down in the 3-on-3 overtime period, Bruyere would end the game beating Mike DeLaVernge glove side. The win gives the Ice Flyers a perfect three-game road weekend as they defeated Evansville on Thursday and Friday evening.
What I learned this from this game is that hype is often time just that. It’s the same hot air that powers sports talk radio stations and the same keyboard warrior mentality that keeps message boards running. Having been there on the night Jason Price made his return and having seen him play five times since that night, I don’t believe he’s a bad guy. I think he’s a hockey player who let his emotions get the best of him in a game, and those emotions almost ended an otherwise stellar career.
Also, the Huntsville Havoc fans are a special group of people, Saturday night’s game raised $58,031 for St. Jude Hospital. Kudos to the fans who bought the jerseys, wear them proudly.