The Pensacola Ice Flyers became SPHL champions Thursday night for the third time in the four seasons, and the victory came thanks to a literal last-second effort by center Josh Cousineau.
Cousineau’s heroics came in the third game of the President’s Cup final with Pensacola having a chance to sweep the series. With only two seconds remaining in the game, Ice Flyers defenseman Ryan Kesti, pinching deep on the play, backhanded the puck towards the net where it was turned aside by Peoria Rivermen netminder David Jacobson. However, Jacobson’s stop sent a rebound out front where Cousineau was crossing and with 0.2 seconds left his backhand attempt beat Jacobson and gave the Ice Flyers the victory:
“With eight seconds left I thought we might have one more chance,” Cousineau told the Pensacola New Journal’s Bill Vilona. “The puck went to the net and it was whatever I could do to get my stick on the ice.”
Cousineau was swarmed by teammates after netting the game-winner as the Rivermen protested, waving their arms as if to say time had expired before Cousineau’s shot crossed the goal line. It was ruled that the puck crossed the line just before the clock hit zero, however, and Cousineau’s championship-winning goal stood.
The victory makes back-to-back SPHL titles for Cousineau. He won the President’s Cup in 2014-15 as a member of the Knoxville Ice Bears, but there’s little doubt that the 2015-16 win will feel more special even though he only spent half the campaign playing for the Ice Flyers. And for Pensacola, the victory marks a pretty sizeable upset even if they came into the series as the league’s second-ranked team.
The Rivermen, who were swept by the Ice Flyers in the final, were dominant in the regular season and finished with a league-best 39-12-5 record for 83 points. Pensacola finished a full 16 points back of Peoria in the regular season, and the Rivermen came into the series having not allowed a goal in their two previous games. However, the Ice Flyers were able to eke out a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game 1 and a 3-2 win in Game 2 to take the 2-0 series lead back to Pensacola for Game 3.
Ice Flyers goaltender Matt Zenzola was named MVP of the SPHL post-season. He finished with a 7-0 record, 2.14 goals-against average and .903 save percentage, and stopped 65 of the 73 shots he faced from the Rivermen in the final.