Hockey returns to Pensacola this weekend, as the Ice Flyers begin their tenth season at the Bay Center, aka “The Hangar.”
Pensacola finished tied in second place with Macon for the most regular-season victories in the SPHL last season – 33 out of a 56-game schedule – but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. In 2018-19, in the words of The Who, it’s “meet the new boss….same as the old boss.”
“I’m very fortunate and honored to be back, and look forward to this season,” Aldoff told the media at the Bay Center. “The success we’ve had, the organization, the professionalism, the commitment, the fans, the city; everything’s been first-class the first day I got here five years ago.”
All roads have led back to Pensacola for Head Coach Rod Aldoff. After leading the Ice Flyers to the Southern Professional Hockey League championship in 2014 and 2016 — and serving as an interim head coach in 2017 — he says accepting the opportunity to return was a no-brainer, and he feels he they have a strong team.
“Our goaltending is strong, our defense are solid, and we can put 10 good forwards on the ice every night,” Aldoff says. “That’s the team I want to build, that’s the team we’ve had in the past and that’s the teams that are tough to play against.”
Something new Aldoff has for this season is a full-time assistant coach, former Ice Flyers star, Jeremy Gates.
“It’s nice to have somebody back there to talk to in between periods as we’re making adjustments or whatever we may do,” said Aldoff. “[Gates] is another set of eyes; obviously, four eyes are better than two on the bench. He sees some things that maybe I don’t see, so that’s nice to have.”
For returning forward Matt Johnson, the change in coaches from Jeff Bes to Rod Aldoff is evident – such as more attention to detail.
“Rod’s a real stickler out there for all the little details; I think that’s one of the biggest changes from last season,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of guys with a lot of experience, so that’s always good coming into [training] camp, starting off with some veterans.”
Several new players are on the Pensacola roster, including some past opponents. One of them is forward Ryan Marcuz, who played for the rival Mississippi RiverKings last season. The team folded last May.
“It’s tough if you don’t like playing in front of big crowds because you always had a pretty big crowd here,” says Marcuz on playing against Pensacola in Pensacola. “I like it because it got a lot of fans screaming [and] it just gets you all fired up. It’s nice to have them on your side for once. In Mississippi, we really didn’t get that many fans. So here it’s a big change, but it’s a good change.”
For the Ice Flyers’ tenth season, owner Greg Harris says there’s lots of stuff planned for the celebration, and thinks fans will enjoy what he calls a “different game experience.”
“I’ve brought in some new staff, one of the changes to make it more fun, more interesting,” Harris says. “Even [public address] announcements are going to sound differently; our music’s going to sound [different], our intro is going to be phenomenal.”
Harris joined team founder Tim Kerr and the Ice Flyers' ownership group in October 2011, becoming majority owner the following year. The interest on the Gulf Coast in the Canadian national sport, he says, can be traced back to the original team here, the Ice Pilots of the East Coast Hockey League.
“My understanding is that the first couple of years, [the Ice Pilots] started off with a bang, and they went through some hills and some valleys,” said Harris. “But we’ve really taken an interest in what the fan wants, and what the community wants. Also, it’s just getting good people that represent the organization, but [also] represent everything about Pensacola and the people in Pensacola.”
The Pensacola Ice Flyers open their tenth season this evening on the road against the Macon Mayhem. Saturday night the puck drops in the Hangar when the Flyers host the Birmingham Bulls.