Ice Flyers Erase Early Deficit, Stay Unbeaten On Teddy Bear Night

December 2, 2023

By Bill Vilonam Ice Flyers Correspondent

When Gary Graham coached the Ice Flyers to their first championship 10 years ago, there wasn’t this kind of rivalry with Peoria.
There is now, of course.

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That’s why the Ice Flyers 7-4 victory against the Rivermen Friday night, after the game was tied 3-3 at second intermission, carried extra meaning for the players and the crowd of 3,877 at the Pensacola Bay Center on Teddy Bear Toss Night.

Seven different players scored and the Ice Flyers had a 47-23 edge in shots in a game that started the wrong way for the home team, but ended with Pensacola keeping its unbeaten record (7-0) on home ice.
“I wasn’t part of it before,” said Graham, smiling afterward about the matchup with Peoria. “I’ve seen it first hand now. They tried to get us off our game early with the physicality side of things.

“And I thought our guys did a really good job of taking some punishment, going on the power play and basically making them beat themselves.

“Any time you can score seven goals with seven different guys, that doesn’t happen often. I thought the guys did a good job keep sticking with it.”

The Ice Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs last year by Peoria. They also won their most dramatic SPHL title against Peoria with a last-second goal to clinch the championship. This weekend’s pair of games are the only two in Pensacola this season.

The Ice Flyers trailed 2-0 midway through the first period. And then the game changed.

“It’s a big game for us. We don’t like them and they don’t like us. It’s a great rivalry,” said the Ice Flyers Mitch Atkins, named the game’s No. 1 star Friday with a goal and two assists.
The third period became the most eventful.

Less than four minutes into the period, veteran Peoria captain Alec Hagaman, who was part of the Ice Flyers last championship team in 2021, was thrown out of the game on a match penalty for slew-footing. The penalty is called when a player either kicks, grabs or knocks another players’ feet from behind.

It gave the Ice Flyers a 5-minute power play. Less than 90 seconds into the power play, Ice Flyers captain Garrett Milan scored on a one-timer shot from near the face-off circle after a perfect feed from Mitch Atkins.

It gave the Ice Flyers a 4-3 lead.

“I saw it out of the corner of my eye. The referee didn’t see it, but the linesman saw it,” Graham said. “A lot of times slew footing happens behind the play, because players are smart, they know where the ref’s looking.”
Seven minutes later, Malik Johnson put the Ice Flyers up two goals with his quick wrister.

But Peoria got a shorthanded goal with 5:07 remaining and now the game had a different kind of feel. That is until Atkins had the pivotal goal with a defender draped on him, who he shed and caused to take out Peoria goaltender Brendahn Brawley. Atkins regained control of the puck and made a whirl around move to wrist the puck into the open corner of the net.

“We came out (of Ice Flyers end) with a lot of speed,” Atkins said. “Once we got in the (Peoria) zone, Bondee (Ivan Bondarenko) has such a great vision and he made a great seam pass.

“It jumped my stick and I felt if I wrapped it the other way there wouldn’t be a lot still in the net. It was a fun goal and a good pass by Bondee to open things up there.”

Fittingly, Bondarenko scored the Ice Flyers final goal on an empty-netter while killing a penalty. Peoria pulled Brawley with 1:52 remaining to get a 6 on 4 situation. But when Rivermen defenseman slipped and fell inside the blue line, the puck was free and Bondarenko sealed the game.

Peoria led 2-1 at first intermission. The game began with a crowd-pleasing fight at the 7:40 mark between the Ice Flyers Sean Gulka and Spencer Kennedy. Both traded a flurry a punches for nearly a minute as the crowd roared and both teams saluted.

The Rivermen then got a pair of goals four minutes apart from Braydon Barker and Kennedy, two players who recently joined the team.

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Barker, who played last season for Peoria, got his first goal this season on an assist from long-time veteran Alec Hagaman. The goal occurred with 10:12 left in the period.

Kennedy, who began the season in Roanoke, scored his first goal for Peoria with 6:58 left. Both Barker and Kennedy were playing in their third game for the Rivermen.

“They are a veteran group,” Graham said. “They capitalized on the very few chances they had. We made a couple mistakes and… boom it’s in the back of net. They are a team that can score very quickly, and we knew we had to keep the pace with them.”

But the Ice Flyers answered 27 seconds after Kennedy’s goal when Lucas Herrmann got his third goal of the season. The moment the goal lamp was lit, the stuffed animals were tossed across the ice from all sides as the signature part of Teddy Bear Toss Night for the first Ice Flyers goal in the game.

WHO: Peoria Rivermen vs. Ice Flyers
WHEN: Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
WHERE: Pensacola Bay Center


One Response to “Ice Flyers Erase Early Deficit, Stay Unbeaten On Teddy Bear Night”

  1. Rodney on December 2nd, 2023 10:38 pm

    If you have never attended an Ice Flyers game I encourage you make the choice and visit, you will not be disappointed. There is energy throughout the building that is unmatched with excitement that is contagious. LETS GO FLYERS!!