Ice Flyers Get 4-2 Win Saturday Against Macon Mayhem

February 4, 2024

by Bill Vilona, Ice Flyers correspondent

The Ice Flyers’ Malik Johnson skated back to center ice, after chosen as the game’s No. 1 star, tapping his heart to acknowledge the supportive crowd.

For more photos, click here.

This was the desired capper to the weekend, the kind of celebratory scene with former stars and the current team that followed the Ice Flyers 4-2 win Saturday against the Macon Mayhem, thus delighting a sellout crowd of 8,049 at the Pensacola Bay Center.

With two memorable nights on the Ice Flyers 15th anniversary weekend, which was paired with the $5 ticket weekend, the Ice Flyers filled the building from floor to ceiling and honored former players who helped forge the franchise legacy that includes four championships.

But most importantly to this team, a win ensued that was much needed.

“It was cool, it was an awesome weekend,” said Ice Flyers coach Gary Graham referring to the experience presented by back-to-back sellouts. “The (former players) came in (locker room) before the game and got ‘em pumped up. We made them more a part of it (Saturday), behind closed doors, more of an intimate setting with our team.”

After Macon scored the game’s first goal with 11:01 left in the first period, the Ice Flyers tied it less than two minutes later when team captain Garrett Milan scored off a faceoff from an in-traffic assist from Houston Wilson.
This was more than just a tying goal. It was Milan’s first goal in 11 games. And it set a tone for what followed.

“It was great to see Garrett score that first goal,” Graham said. “He’s needed that bad. He has been working his tail off, he’s been battling through some nagging injuries, and he’s been a warrior.

“He puts a lot of pressure on himself… that’s what a captain does when times aren’t going good. I know I’ve been hard on him, too. So to see him finally get that monkey off his back and go to the net hard and get rewarded…. I think it was good for our team to see our captain doing that.

“He was out there finishing checks. He led with his actions on the ice, and I thought the rest of the team really followed his lead.”
Yes, they did.
Four minutes after Milan’s goal, fellow Ice Flyers veteran Ivan Bondarenko finished a perfect pass from Taylor Egan in the slot to give the Ice Flyers a 2-1 intermission lead. Bondarenko then bowed in salute of Egan as the players embraced.
The Ice Flyers almost had a 3-1 lead before the period ended. With 3:41 remaining and a timeout that followed what first appeared on the videoboard replay of a rebound goal, the officials looked extensively at their replay available in the penalty box area. And it was affirmed just as ruled in real time on the ice that it wasn’t a goal.

“When you look at the camera view — and a lot of times you see this in the NHL too — it looks like (puck) is crossing the line, but it’s a depth issue. (The puck) wasn’t across and (officials) had another view they used, and I knew it wasn’t a goal.”

What was a clear goal, however, scored in dramatic fashion by Johnson, occurred early in the second period.

He won a race to the puck on a breakaway against Macon’s diving goaltender who was well out of the crease. Johnson then gained control and with a trailing defender easily tapped the puck into the net for a 3-1 lead.
“He’s one of the fastest guys in the league and it was a good anticipation read on his part,” Graham said. “He read the chip that was happening, and he just beat the goalie to it.”

After the Mayhem added suspense with a shorthanded goal early in the third period, the game stayed 3-2 until the Ice Flyers Nick Leitner fired into an empty net with two seconds remaining.

Macon gained a 6 on 4 situation with their goaltender pulled, after the Ice Flyers were whistled for too many men of the ice with 50.6 seconds later. But the Ice Flyers didn’t allow Macon a clean shot and sealed the game.
“The main thing was Garrett and (Joseph) Widmar did a good job on the (penalty kill) holding the blue line. We just didn’t let (Macon) get into the zone,” Graham said.

Overall, Graham was pleased with his team’s response that followed a deflating 1-0 loss Friday night against first-place Birmingham.

“I thought we came right out of the gate and started putting more pucks at the net,” he said. “I thought the first goal (by Milan) symbolized what we wanted to start doing more and that is just crashing the net.”
When the final horn sounded, 10 former Ice Flyers players came onto the ice with wives and girlfriends for a team photo with the current players. They locked arms in a poignant scene that ended the special weekend.
The Ice Flyers will now be on the road next weekend at Huntsville, while Pensacola celebrates its Mardi Gras weekend of parades. They finished Saturday, however, with their own good times rolling.

“It was rocking. It was exciting,” Graham said. “Obviously, we couldn’t blow the lid off it (Friday night). You don’t want to get shut out on Teddy Bear toss night and you don’t want to get shut out in front of 8,000 fans, but unfortunately that happened. It was disappointing for the guys.”

But the response Saturday became a gratifying end.

For more photos, click here.

WHAT’S NEXT?
WHO: Ice Flyers vs. Huntsville Havoc
WHEN: Friday-Saturday (Feb. 9-10) 7 p.m. both games.
WHERE: Propst Arena, Huntsville, Ala.

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