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 Pensacola Ice Flyers

Ice Flyers Show Mettle, But Lose Heartbreaker in Game 1 of Playoff Series vs. Peoria

April 11, 2024 - SPHL (SPHL)
Pensacola Ice Flyers News Release

The Ice Flyers played the style they wanted, the effort they needed and got exceptional goaltending to be on verge of a stunning, playoff opening upset.

All of this, only to absorb a gut-punch with just 70 seconds left in the first, sudden-death overtime.

Peoria winger, Cayden Cahill, gained a fortuitous bounce off the boards, leading to a breakaway that he finished with a wrist flick into the net that gave the Rivermen a 3-2 victory in the delayed Game 1 of this quarterfinal series at the Pensacola Bay Center.

The game featured a combined 91 shots on goal and standout play from both teams' goaltenders the entire game. That made the ending even more difficult for the Ice Flyers for their hopes in this short series.

"We talked before the game that the effort was the most important thing," said Ice Flyers coach, Gary Graham. "When you go into the playoffs, I've always told my playoff teams this: You really want to look yourself in the mirror and know as a man that you gave everything you could.

"And I thought the guys did that (Thursday). The game is about bounces and you need a little bit of luck sometimes. I looked down and was getting ready to make a line change and I looked up and I didn't see where the puck was at and I see two (Peoria) guys behind every one of ours.

"I've never seen that in overtime. They made us pay."

More rough luck hit the Ice Flyers after Ivan Bondarenko tied the game less than three minutes into the second period. He later got hurt off a check and couldn't play again.

"He was buzzing," Graham said. "He was the best player on the ice until he got hurt and we lost him for basically two periods. And that hurt. He's a big part of our team. But the guys still continued to work hard and gave the effort...

Earlier this week, tall and physical centerman Sean Gulka was hurt in practice.

"It has just been one of these weird couple weeks with guys dropping like flies," Graham said. "But as long as the guys are giving a 100-percent and they are, we have a chance."

Both teams left immediately after showering and dressing for an all-night, all Friday morning, 14-plus hour bus trip to Peoria, Illinois where the Ice Flyers will seek to keep their season alive on Saturday night in the second game.

A recap:


The Rivermen scored the game's first goal less than three minutes into the game.

Jordan Ernst one-timed a centering pass from Braydon Barker, who set it up from the side boards, past Stephen Mundinger, who wound up stopping 44 Peoria shots in the game.

Two minutes later, the only power play of the period gave the Ice Flyers a tying chance after Chase Spencer was whistled for tripping. Peoria thwarted that opportunity.

The Ice Flyers tied the game when Dale Deon, who began the season with Peoria, rifled a shot through traffic from inside the blue line that got past Nick Latinovich and had the crowd dancing with 5:54 left in the period.

That energy surge was short-lived, however.

Peoria answered just 27 seconds later when Tristan Trudel, son of Rivermen head coach Jean-Guy Trudel, pounced on a loose puck amid traffic and wristed a shot into the net.

The period ended with the Ice Flyers having an 18-9 edge in shots on goal.


The best scoring chance of the period occurred less than three minutes into play, and Ivan Bondarenko didn't miss on finishing a 2-on-1 rush.

He took a perfect pass from Mitch Atkins, skated alone on Latinovich and flicked a backhand shot into the upper corner to tie the game.

And that's how the period ended.

But there were plenty of other opportunities for both teams. Peoria penalties four minutes apart gave the Ice Flyers an edge to take the lead, but it didn't happen. Peoria then had two power play chances with Mundinger making saves and limiting rebounds.

The period ended after Peoria retiring captain Alec Hagaman was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct with 1:11 left, leading into a 49-second carry-over on the power play to start the third period.

The Ice Flyers carried a 25-24 edge in shots at the intermission.


No scoring, but plenty of big saves on both ends. The Rivermen thought they had a scored a go-ahead goal with 5:42 left, but the officials had blown the whistle to stop play and immediately waved off the goal.

After a video review, the officiating crew again signaled no goal.

Peoria then hit a goal post with a shot with 2:49 left.


There were two sequences of off-setting minor penalties that made for 4-on-4 hockey and then the Ice Flyers had a power play with 3:27 left. They won faceoffs and had some open shots that were either thwarted by Latinovich or missed the mark.


After the first period, Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris presented a $32,000 check from the team's foundation to Covenant Care and its "My Wish" initiative. The program provides those with a serious or terminal illness with a special event or activity to boost spirits.

Covenant Care vice president Aaron West was part of the presentation on the ice during the intermission.

The playoff game occurred exactly 10 years after the Ice Flyers set an SPHL record on this date with a nine-goal barrage in a playoff series opener against the former Columbus (Ga.) Cottonmouths.

The Ice Flyers will head to Peoria's Carver Arena where the Rivermen compiled a 24-1 home-ice record with three OT losses in the other games. It is the highest home win percentage in SPHL history.

QUOTABLE: Ice Flyers Coach Gary Graham

"It's a three-game series. They got the first one. We don't focus on Sunday (potential deciding game), we don't focus on the next round, you focus on what's in front of you. You focus on a good first period, getting the team prepared and from there, once the puck drops anything can happen."


SCENARIO: Game 2 of SPHL Quarterfinal Playoffs

WHO: Ice Flyers vs. Peoria Rivermen

WHEN: Saturday, 7:15 p.m.

WHERE: Carver Arena, Peoria, Illinois

WANT TO WATCH? Bubba's 33 Restaurant on N. Davis Highway is hosting watch party for Ice Flyers

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