Saturday, October 26, 2013

Columbus Cottonmouths 2 at Pensacola Ice Flyers 6 (SPHL) - October 25, 2013

After watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers implode, I didn't want to leave the State of Florida without seeing some sort of local success. Perusing the OurSportsCentral website, which lists all sorts of minor league games day-by-day, I noticed the Pensacola Ice Flyers were home on Friday evening. Pensacola makes a perfect stop between Tampa and New Orleans, and when I found out it was the season opener and the Ice Flyers would be hoisting their 2012-13 championship banner, I had no choice but to attend.

The game was played at the Pensacola Civic Center, a fairly average building with a large parking lot to the east. From there you walk up a ramp (bottom left in the photo above) to the entrances, which is also where the box offices are located. Tickets range from $29 for seats at the glass down to $10 for a special section in one corner. Only the lower bowl is open, so you might want to avoid the end zones if you want a clear view. There is a large concourse around the rink and some fans watch from there; the picture below was snapped from this concourse.

The outer area is where the concession stands are located, huge lineups formed at the intermissions, so if you want to get your food without waiting, try leaving during one of the official timeouts. Large drafts are only $6, while hot dogs are $3. There are some specialty offerings on the inner concourse, including a sandwich that was sold out by the 2nd intermission.

Before the game, it was time to celebrate the championship. The lights were dimmed and the Ice Flyers were announced one-by-one, skating out to a few cheers. The announcer then replayed some key goals in the playoff drive while fans ¥ stood and cheered loudly. As one nearby wag noted, it would be a lot more exciting with a video screen, but the Civic Center has only a dot matrix board, which would have to do.

At the end, the Presidents Cup was lowered from the scoreboard and the captain skated over to grab it and bring it to the owner, who made a quick speech and presented those few remaining Ice Flyers with a memento, perhaps a ring. Again, a video screen might have helped.

Finally, it was time to raise the banner, which looked pretty spiffy to me. After a few pictures, it was hoisted to the rafters, where it will stay in perpetuity. It will need to be straightened out though, as you can see below.

The team must have lost their focus with all the goings-on, as they gave up a couple of early goals to the visiting Cottonmouths from Columbus (Georgia, that is), but they halved the lead on a power play marker midway from Drew Baker through the first. Late in the frame, Matt Gingera of Columbus was hooked on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. His effort was easily saved by John Griggs though, and Pensacola took the momentum into the second period. Joe Caveney scored twice in the first 3:33 to give the Ice Flyers the lead, and they never looked back, adding another in the second and two more in the third to win easily, 6-2.

The star of the game was Mitchell Good (#19 below) who had a goal and four assists.

The fans here were great, hating on the refs right from the beginning, even though Columbus drew 9 penalties to just 7 for the home team. There were even a couple of fights, but nothing unusual other than an eye gouge from Joe Bueltel (below).

All in all, a worthwhile evening. Back in 2010 I saw Pensacola play in Knoxville in my first SPHL game, and I would say that the quality has improved somewhat. There were still too many penalties, but there were also more nice plays and good chances and Pensacola looks like a fun team to watch.

At that time there were seven teams, but there have been a few changes since then and there are now 10 clubs in the circuit, including a couple in Illinois, so perhaps it is getting a bit more recognition from players as well. Check out their website and if you are in town for a game, stop by, it is good honest hockey.


The Cottonmouths are named after a snake, and their uniform numbers use that to their advantage, as you can see below.

The jersey belongs to Jesse Chenard, who made his first professional appearance. In the coincidence department, he is from Camrose, Alberta, which is where my father was born. Update (10/30): Chenard was released after the weekend, so this may be his only pro game if he doesn't sign on somewhere else.

The Ice Flyers wore championship jerseys that were auctioned off after the game. You might be able to make out "Champions" on the jersey worn by Donnie Harris below. Definitely a cool Christmas gift for a Pensacola pee-wee.



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