Ice Flyers Comeback Attempt In Home Finale Foiled By Macon Mayhem In 4-3 Loss

April 1, 2024

By Bill Vilona, Ice Flyers correspondent

The Ice Flyers were hoping their scheduled home finale would put an Easter Sunday bow on a season of record-setting attendance and fan experience memories.

For more photos, click here.

But the Macon Mayhem had other ideas.

On an afternoon that followed Macon’s overtime win Saturday night at Birmingham — thwarting the Bulls from clinching the league regular-season crown — the Mayhem jumped to a 4-1 lead in the second period Sunday and held on for a 4-3 victory against the Ice Flyers at the Pensacola Bay Center.

A crowd of 3,609 on Friends and Family Day boosted the Ice Flyers season attendance to 148,588 for the 28-game home schedule. It was by far the largest season attendance in the team’s 15-year franchise history.

Unfortunately for the Ice Flyers, they weren’t able to close it out with a win. They will now finish the 56-game schedule on the road next weekend at Fayetteville, which is battling to hold on to fourth place and home-ice for the first round of the playoffs.

Both teams Sunday were playing in their third game in three days. The Ice Flyers (25-25,4 OT losses) split their two-game series against Evansville the previous nights at the Bay Center, while Macon (15-32, 7 OT losses), which will finish in last place in the 10-team Southern Professional Hockey League, split two games at Birmingham.

“We got outplayed by a team that shouldn’t have outplayed us,” said Ice Flyers coach Gary Graham. “It’s unacceptable. It was a very disappointing weekend to lose two home games. I care a lot about it. It’s frustrating. I just don’t feel that level was there (Sunday) from our group.”

The game recap:

FIRST PERIOD

The game’s first penalty led to the Ice Flyers first goal.

Macon’s Sacha Roy was whistled for tripping twice in the same sequence with 13:55 remaining. And 45 seconds later, Reggie Millette wristed a shot into the net, following a faceoff won by Garrett Milan in the Mayhem zone. Milan got the puck to Zac Herrmann, who found Millette open for the shot.

Less than two minutes later, Macon tied the game.

David Nippard rifled a shot that bounced off Ice Flyers’ goaltender Reid Cooper’s chest protector and the puck went over his shoulder and rolled into the net.

Cooper became a pro hockey buzz last April when the Washington Capitals signed the former NCAA Division III star goaltender to a contract — and he dressed for an NHL game as the backup goaltender.

Cooper was making his first start for the Ice Flyers. He played a total of 14 pro games, all in the higher level ECHL in 2023 and earlier this season before the Ice Flyers signed him.

Exactly three minutes later, the Mayhem took a 2-1 lead into the intermission when Roy’s shot from inside the blueline got through traffic and past Cooper with 8:40 remaining.

The Ice Flyers’ Spencer Kennedy created the other noteworthy moment of the period. He got tangled with Macon’s Dan Winslow, took exception to a hold around his neck and dropped Winslow with a flurry of punches. Teammate Billy Jerry jumped in and Kennedy threw some punches at him as well.

It produced seven minutes in penalties for Kennedy and gave Macon a five minute power play that the Ice Flyers killed off.

SECOND PERIOD

This is when the game was ultimately decided.

The Mayhem scored two goals less than two minutes apart and it caused Graham to pull Cooper from the game after Macon took a 4-1 lead with 13:46 remaining. He faced 16 shots, stopping 12.

The Ice Flyers No. 1 goalie, Stephen Mundinger, who played between the pipes the previous two nights, was unexpectedly summoned to finish the game Mundinger stopped all 14 shots he faced to help get the Ice Flyers re-energized.

Houston Wilson started the momentum with his shot through traffic with 2:54 remaining in the period, cutting the deficit to 4-2 at second intermission.

THIRD PERIOD

Less than three minutes into the period, Macon thought it had scored when a shot hit the pipe and the goal lamp came on. After the officials stopped play for video review, their initial decision of no goal was confirmed.

That led to the Ice Flyers Reggie Millette putting home a rebound on a shot from Mitch Atkins with 14:26 remaining. Suddenly, the crowd was making an impact and the Ice Flyers seemed positioned for a complete comeback.

But in the final four minutes, the Ice Flyers managed just three shots on goal, including the final 1:19 when Mundinger was pulled during a timeout for an extra attacker.

It was Macon’s fourth win against the Ice Flyers in the 10 games between the teams.

NOTABLES:

— With Sunday’s attendance, the Ice Flyers finished their 28-game home games with an average of 5,307 per-game. Only the Huntsville Havoc, the league’s attendance leader, has a better per-game average and total attendance in the SPHL.

— Following the game, the Ice Flyers signed autographs for fans on the second-level concourse.

— During the first intermission, the Ice Flyers front office staff had their moment in a contest shooting pucks from the blue line into an empty net.

— The Ice Flyers have clinched the No. 7 seed in the playoffs and will face either Birmingham or Peoria in the first round of the playoffs that can begin the week of April 8-14.

QUOTABLES:

Ice Flyers Coach Gary Graham: “The first two (Macon) goals were very lucky. The shots went off a player and went into the net. So, they had a little bit of puck luck early. And again, for the new goalie (Cooper), his first game when I had to pull him, he didn’t get a chance to do a lot for us.

“And any goalie is going to be upset which is normal. They are passionate guys, they are competitors, which I respect. For me, it wasn’t his play, it was more about trying to wake my team up. Sometimes for a coach it’s a gut feel and we did start playing a little bitter out of that. I’m upset that his first game was like that, but I have a lot of confidence in both of them, so that’s not going to waver at all moving forward.

On Ice Flyers Struggles:

“For me it’s the same thing over and over again. You look at a team, Macon, they shoot the puck from everywhere. They have two of the top five goal scorers in the league. They shoot and shoot and they get to the net. Every game, we have chances in the slot, we look for something cute on the back post, it’s been the same problem all year. We don’t have pure goal scorers on this team. We don’t have guys who want to shoot the puck.”

NEXT FACEOFF

WHO: Ice Flyers vs. Fayetteville Marksmen

WHEN: April 5-6

WHERE: Crown Coliseum, Fayetteville, N.C.

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