Ice Flyers Eye 'Three-Peat' In Southern League
The Pensacola Ice Flyers open defense of their second consecutive Southern Professional Hockey League championship on the road Friday evening against the Mississippi RiverKings.
When Head Coach Rod Aldoff brought the team together to begin training camp last week, his message to the ten returning players was: “forget last season.”
“We’re proud of what we did, but it’s over, it’s done, it’s a new year and we’ve got to write a new book and take it one page at a time,” said Aldoff, who’s in his second year as Ice Flyers’ coach. “I think for the most part we’ve got a good ground and good base on what we want to do. I’m looking forward to it, the players are excited, and we’ve got a big challenge ahead.”
That big challenge is winning the SPHL’s President’s Cup for a third consecutive season, and a return to the finals for a fourth straight year. That’s placed a rather large target on their backs, which the other seven SPHL teams will aim for.
“We’ve set a tone where we kind of have a rivalry with everybody,” said Aldoff. “Teams are going to be prepared to play us and gauge their level and depth of their team through playing us. And that’s a good thing.”
This was a different training camp, in part because it wasn’t shared with the Mississippi Surge. After losing to Pensacola in the SPHL playoffs, the Surge suspended operations for this season. Another factor in player recruitment this summer was the merger of the Central and East Coast Hockey Leagues.
One of those new Ice Flyers is starting goalie Max Strang, who’s 24 and a native of Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania. He was asked about continuing his hockey career in Pensacola after playing last season with the Bloomington Thunder, which departed the SPHL after one season.
“It’s pretty hard to argue with two championships first and foremost (and) the reputation the (Ice Flyers) organization has for professionalism and success,” said Strang. “And on top of that, Pensacola’s a beautiful place so it’s really a triple whammy, and I’m doing everything I can to make my mark here.”
On Wednesday, the Ice Flyers announced that left winger Brett Lutes will wear the captain’s “C” on his jersey. Steve Bergin and Jeremy Gates were named associate captains. At 32, Lutes is the oldest Ice Flyer entering his 12th season on skates.
The SPHL regular season is a 56-game marathon. Lutes says the Ice Flyer philosophy has not been verbally addressed with the new players per se, but it’s fairly simple and straightforward.
“It’s come in everyday and play hockey,” said Lutes. “The guys take pride in that I think, especially the guys who came back from last year. When you come to the rink, you’re putting on a pretty important jersey. Put your work shoes on.”
And for head coach Rod Aldoff, training camp and scrimmages can show you only so much about a team, until the games begin to count.
“It’s early in the year, so there will be kinks to work out for sure, and there will be little knick-knacks to go over and things to do,” Aldoff said. “But we’re ready for it, and that’s the exciting part.”
After Friday night’s game against the RiverKings, the Pensacola Ice Flyers will board their bus and head back for Saturday night’s home opener against the Columbus Cottonmouths at the Bay Center – a.k.a. “The Hangar.”