Photos by Vanessa Johnson
PENSACOLA, FLA – It is a given that when putting two teams together on a sheet of ice, anything can happen. When it comes to the playoffs, that axiom gets multiplied by 100.
Thursday night at the Pensacola Bay Center, the top seeded Pensacola Ice Flyers hosted the seventh seeded Knoxville Ice Bears in what the home crowd expected would be another step in defense of Pensacola’s 2013 President’s Cup title. Instead, Knoxville goalie Bryan Hince turned it into a misstep as he turned away all 51 shots he faced in blanking the Ice Flyers 2-0.
Knoxville now has a chance to close out the best-of-three series with a win at home on Saturday or face a deciding game back in Pensacola on Sunday. The winner of the series will face the Columbus Cottonmouths in the SPHL finals beginning later next week.
The replay of one of last season’s semifinal series was expected to be close and hard-fought and it certainly turned out that way. The teams battled to a scoreless draw in the first period as Hince and Pensacola goalie Ross MacKinnon were on their games, stopping everything in sight. Even more remarkable was the fact that the opening twenty minutes was played without a penalty called.
The only goal Hince and the Ice Bears would need came 11:33 into the second period. Brad Pawlowski fed a pass to Corey Fulton who in turn set up Ben Soulders who beat MacKinnon to put the visitors ahead. Pensacola came close to evening the score late in the frame when Joshua Turnbull beat Hince with a shot but the puck caught the post and stayed out.
Hince became the star of the game from that point, facing 32 shots thru two periods and having another 19 sent his way in the third. Knoxville got an insurance marker five minutes into the final frame when Francis Drolet made a perfect pass to David Segal who had gotten loose on the backside of the play. Segal pounded the puck home to double the lead and make things difficult for the Ice Flyers.
Turnbull thought he had finally solved Hince late in the game when he thought he had put the puck across the goal line. Problem was neither referee Peter MacDougall nor the goal judge saw it go across and waived it off, leaving most of the 3,530 fans in attendance and the Ice Flyers team frustrated. It would be as close as Pensacola would get as Hince slammed the door shut from there.
For his part, MacKinnon played well, making 23 saves in a losing effort.
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