MACON, Ga – After pulling off an upset in the semifinals of the President’s Cup Playoffs, the Pensacola Ice Flyers will play for an SPHL title this weekend against Macon.
Pensacola gets a chance to take the series lead at home, hosting the first game of the best-of-three series on Friday before the series shifts to Macon.
Here’s a look at the Ice Flyers road to the finals…
Pensacola is unlike Macon in that it didn’t spend a good part of the season at the top of the standings. In fact, while Macon and Knoxville ended up holding down the top two spots, Pensacola, Huntsville, and Birmingham battled it out for the final two spots of the playoffs. With a few weeks to go in the season, Pensacola was in a position to finish anywhere from third to fifth.
On April 20, the Ice Flyers had lost seven of eight, including a forgetful weekend in Macon with 5-0 and 9-3 losses in which the Ice Flyers starting goalie was pulled in back-to-back nights.
But in a stretch that redirected the fortunes of the Ice Flyers, the ship was righted with three wins in their final five games, enough to earn the third seed for the postseason.
Fighting through injuries and adversity
Half the battle for Pensacola was fighting through injuries. Over the course of the year, Alec Marsh, Patrick Megannety were both placed on the season-ending IR, and Alec Hagaman was placed in the 21-day IR twice, resulting in him playing in just 24 games.
That, however, opened the door for Jake Wahlin. as the rookie ended up leading the team with 37 points to also make a strong case for rookie of the year.
And then there was starting goalie Jake Kupsky. The Ice Flyers were forced to persevere here, too. On three separate occasions, Kupsky was loaned to the ECHL and as a result, played in 18 games in the regular season, the eighth-most of all goalies in the league. To help absorb his absence, Chase Perry and Jack Berry filled in with respective GAAs of 2.76 and 2.52.
But Kupsky returned late in the season, going on to win four of his final five games of the regular season plus both postseason games against Knoxville. Each contest had a common thread with two goals or fewer being allowed in each one.
The scenario didn’t take long to get floated. Once the Peoria Rivermen were among the teams opting out for the season their players became available, multiple Rivermen opted, either right away or later in the season, to play for the Ice Flyers.
It meant for these players, who had been snakebit previously in their quest for a title in Peoria, would now have a chance to claim an SPHL title, albeit with a different team.
Hagaman, Jordan Ernst, and Darren McCormick at forward and Nick Neville and Skyler Smutek on defense brought experience to the gulf coast. The Ice Flyers’ ability to get these players to mesh with the current roster was a key factor in the team’s overall success.
Darren McCormick’s 20 goals led the SPHL and Ernst’s 18 points gave the Ice Flyers a good all-around offensive output. Even playing in 24 games, Hagaman helped the Ice Flyers maintain a physical presence along with a 17-point regular season.
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