Coming off a successful 2011 season that saw them make a run to the Southern Professional Hockey League championship series, the Pensacola Ice Flyers hope to continue the momentum with the introduction of a new head coach, and team logo for the 2012 season.
During a press conference July 12 in the MVP Room of the Civic Center, owner Tim Kerr introduced Gary Graham to a capacity crowd of boisterous Ice Flyer fans, and unveiled a modified team logo and new home and away jerseys.
Kerr described Graham as “a young man with a great history in the game.”
While the Ice Flyers is his first head coaching gig, Graham is a former assistant coach, having worked for the championship -winning Fort Wayne Komets of the now ECHL for the last four years.
Graham said that his first goal was to make the Ice Flyers better in the off-season by getting stronger and faster players for his four and five man attack philosophy.
Key to his off-season plan, said Graham, was the re-signing of popular goaltender Steve Christie, an announcement met with wild applause from the crowd.
“You need a goaltender to win,” he said.
The 2011 season proved that aphorism to be true as Christie spurred the team to a late-season run to the playoffs with an 11-2 record with a 2.08 goals against average.
Graham also announced the signing of assistant coach/team captain Leo Thomas, a veteran player from the Komets.
“He’s Mr. Hustle on and off the ice,” said Graham. “Good leadership is integral. He’s a big money player.”
Graham promised that the Ice Flyers would be a physical team and practice what one crowd member called “put ‘em in the boards” hockey.
“We’re not going to be play goon hockey,” Graham stressed, “but we’re going to be tough and physical, finish our checks, control the middle of the ice, create turnovers and go on the attack and get to the net hard.”
The Ice Flyers have a community-first philosophy, a practice that Graham promises to continue.
“We’re going to be active in the community and bring in right character guys that can commit to that,” he said.
Graham praised the quality of talent in the SPHL.
“It’s improved over the last three or four years. These independent leagues are playing hockey the right way.”
Graham promised a competitive training camp and noted that no roster spot was guaranteed for anyone.
“With the contraction of AA hockey, the talent level is going to rise in the league. These guys have to earn their spot,” he said.
Kerr praised Pensacola’s support of the team and noted that, unlike other playoff teams, attendance for Ice Flyer’s game actually went up during the playoffs.
“It’s a very exciting time,” Kerr told the audience. “We’re striving to be the best organization on and off the ice we can be. We’re trying to build the team, the organization, and give back to the community.”