Ice Flyers Seek Return to SPHL Playoffs in 2019-20
The Pensacola Ice Flyers open the 2019-2020 season this weekend at home, after a busy off-season and some concerns over Mother Nature.
After watching to see where Tropical Storm Nestor was going, the games with Roanoke went on as planned, kicking off the 56-game regular season schedule. – The Flyers swept the Rail Yard Dawgs – 3-2 in overtime Friday, and 2-1 on Saturday.
Two days before the opener, the Ice Flyers were on Bay Center ice working on a power play drill.
After a slow start last season, the Ice Flyers got hot in the second half of last season to finish 7th and qualify for the playoffs in the 10-team Southern Professional Hockey League. They bowed out in the first round, compliments of eventual champion Huntsville Havoc.
“Training camp’s gone very well; it’s been a very determined, motivated group of players, said Head Coach Rod Aldoff. “This group’s surely done a great job and are working hard every day. They’re very motivated, very dedicated to the team and to each other and to themselves.”
The Ice Flyers’ lone pre-season game was a 4-2 win over the Bulls in Birmingham.
“I think we skated well; in practice obviously we compete against each other, [but] we only had three practices at that point,” Aldoff said at the team’s annual media day. “It’s a quick team and we did a lot of little things right so quickly. Some guys picked up some things real quick. But I think overall, skating we have good team speed.”
There are some new faces under the visors, after Aldoff and his staff spent the summer signing players and holding tryout camps – one in Chicago. When recruiting, playing ability is a given; but Aldoff says they also look for intangibles that are not measured by stopwatch, skating or shooting – including one standout intangible.
“Character,” said Aldoff. “That’s what we want here is good people that have the same motivation to the game and love the game; have passion for the game. There’s 19 guys over there that have to see each other every day; they have to see the coaches every day. If somebody’s not on board or somebody’s off, it puts a wrench in everything.”
Joining the coach at media day were a number of players, including defenseman Craig Cescon. At 33, he’s one of the veterans on the Ice Flyers, coming here after stops in the ECHL, Ontario Hockey League and in France, among others. Cescon still has a passion for the game.
“I’ve always told myself if it feels like I’m clocking in at a job, then I know it’s time to hang ‘em up,” said Cescon. “I still love playing, I come to the rink trying to get better every day. To me, age is only a number; you only as good as you feel, so I feel I can still play at my best.”
Cescon – who was named team captain on Thursday -- is a welcome addition to the Ice Flyers, says forward Garrett Milan – who played in 17 games last season, scoring nine goals and 13 assists after a stint in Europe. He says Cescon adds to the team’s work ethic and leadership.
“Like he said, he’s not ready to hang ‘em up; he’s here to win a championship, and it shows every time he’s on the ice,” said Milan. “[Cescon’s] doing the little things, and I think the coach really stress that as being a pro. He’s putting the work in, and that’s great to see for sure.”
“Last year, it seems like we started off a little slow, it took us a little bit of the year to get up going, and it doesn’t seem to be the case this year,” said forward Brett D’Andrea. “We’ve got a good group of guys with the right mentality, and we want to get things going right away.”
D’Andrea is also back for 2019-20, after spending much of last year in the ECHL with the Toledo Walleye. Having played at Bowling Green State, he says the main issue is consistency – and there’s a big difference between a 30-game college schedule, and 56 games – and sometimes more -- in the pros.
“Sometimes your legs aren’t feeling it one night; but you’ve just got to be the most consistent that you can. And that’s how you win championships,” said D’Andrea. “It’s maintaining your body throughout the season; in college we would lift [weights] real hard throughout the season. But here, you almost have to tone it back a little bit and maintain. As far as on the ice, staying healthy like that and play the game the right way.”
As for the last line of defense – goaltending – Head Coach Rod Aldoff believes they’re set in the crease with three newcomers -- Chase Perry, Angus Redmond and Jake Cupsky.
“Angus has played very well, you could see his experience at the next level – it just stands out and stands out,” said Aldoff. “Jake is a 1st year goaltender that’s has good success as well. They can win you games alone; when you got two that, not only myself and the coaches and the team feel very confident in. It’s a great benefit to have.”
Next up for the Pensacola Ice Flyers is a 12-day layoff before a trip to Fayetteville, North Carolina and two games with the Marksmen, on November 1-2. The next home date is Saturday, Nov. 9 against the Birmingham Bulls.