Ice Flyers Fill Arena, Fall To Birmingham

February 3, 2024

By Bill Vilona, Ice Flyers Correspondent

For more photos, click or tap here.

The Ice Flyers had a filled arena Friday on their special 15th anniversary weekend, created plenty of scoring chances, had strong goaltending and evoked crowd reaction from several hard checks.

But a too-familiar, empty feeling, became the final narrative.

The Birmingham Bulls got a deflected goal midway through the second period and made it stand in a 1-0 victory against the Ice Flyers before a sellout crowd of 8,049 at the Pensacola Bay Center.

“(Bulls) made one more play than we did and that’s what the game came down to,” said Ice Flyers coach Gary Graham. “Tip your hat to Birmingham, they’re the top defensive team in the league for a reason. They are very structured. They defended very well.”

It was the Bulls sixth consecutive win against the Ice Flyers, further burnishing their position atop the SPHL standings. Birmingham backup goaltender, Drennan Atherton, a Winter Haven native, who played a game earlier this season for the Ice Flyers, earned his first shutout by stopping all 34 Ice Flyers shots.

His performance included several big stops in the first period and kept the packed arena from having a goal dance celebration to start the annual $5 ticket weekend. The Ice Flyers will get another opportunity Saturday in a sold-out game against the Macon Mayhem to complete back-to-back discount games.

“I’m disappointed for the guys, because again, I know how badly they wanted to get a win for the big crowd,” Graham said. “But I told them (afterward), we get back here, we’ll have a big crowd (Saturday), we have to get points.
“The urgency of this group, they have to start playing with a desperate, killer instinct. And will it happen? That’s the million-dollar question.”

The Ice Flyers (15-17, 2 OT losses, 32 points) had three power play chances in the game. They were only whistled for one penalty. They were able to pull goaltender Stephen Mundinger with 2:46 remaining and a timeout with a faceoff in the Bulls zone.

But even with chances in that final sequence, they could not get a shot into the net and Birmingham (24-6, 6 OT losses, 54 points) improved to 7-3 in the series with Pensacola this season.

“I go back to the first period all the scoring chances, Grade-As, that we had in the slot and we don’t bear down,” Graham said. “We missed the net a lot. And didn’t create enough second chances, greasy goals around the net. That is the issue for our team. We’ve talked about it this year, we have a forward group that we want it the easy way.

“We’ve gone through this in this season about crashing the net, getting positioning around the net front and scratching and clawing for goals.”

The game’s only goal came on what started as a pass. Birmingham’s Dillon Radin was created for a goal when his play in the goal crease area led to the puck bouncing off a skate and into the net.

“Unfortunately, bounces didn’t go our way,” Mundinger said. “We’re right there. One of those things where we ran into a hot goalie, he played well, but I think if a couple bounces go our way, that game is 5-0. It’s frustrating, but we’re playing good hockey.”

Mundinger was awed by scene in the arena where people were literally sitting in the final row near the Bay Center roof. From ice level to rafter left, the seats were filled. And it will occur again Saturday.

“I feel like every week here, you think like you get the best and it just keeps more and more,” Mundinger said. “Nothing but great things about playing here… more than I could have ever dreamed of when coming here. This is a special weekend. You want to win for everyone that’s there. “

For more photos, click or tap here.

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


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