Saturday, March 24, 2012
Blades Gearing up for Playoffs
In late January, things did not look good for the Florida Everblades. At that time, coach Greg Poss hoped that he could pilot his team into the ECHL playoffs. With their win last night against the South Carolina Sting Rays, the Blades locked up a playoff spot, even moving up to fifth place in the standings.
There were more than five thousand boisterous fans in the rink last light, but none louder than a contingent of about thirty die-hard hockey fans from Hanover, Germany. For the past few years, this group has descended on Florida to catch the sun and a bit of shinny. They made their presence felt at the Germain Arena, from start to finish. They chanted the typical “Ole, ole, ole” throughout the game, and ended with “Na, na, na, na” as the Blades skated to a 5-2 victory.
They were in Fort Myers in support of Coach Poss who spent several years behind the benches in the German professional leagues. They also indicated support for Zach Tarkir, who played for their beloved Hanover Indians last year.
Tarkir was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2003, following his college stint at Northern Michigan University. He spent four seasons in the American Hockey League, and won the Kelly Cup with the sting Rays in 2009. He played 44 games for the Indians last year, in the German league.
The Indians play in the Second Division in the German Professional League. Alex Otto was outfitted with an Indians hockey sweater, as were all of the fans from the city near Hamburg. He told me that last year they attended two Panthers games in Fort Lauderdale. When I asked him about his choice of beverage, he replied, “Ya, the beer is good, but not as good as German beer”. Dumb question.
Another member of the group told me loved the game, and that their favourite player was “99”. He looked at me when I said, a bit inquisitively, “Wayne Gretzky”?. “Ya”, he added, and I think I heard him say “dumkoff” under his breath.
Former Belleville Bull Philipp Grubauer has spent the entire season with the Sting Rays. I looked forward to speaking with him about the game, and about the strong German contingent at the game. Alas, to no avail. He was called up to the parent Hershey Bears just before the Rays headed to Fort Myers.
I did track down Blades forward David Rutherford in the stands during the game. He is on the shelf for a game or two with an “undisclosed injury”. He played most of his minor hockey in British Columbia, and spent some time with Belleville native Nathan Moon in the playoffs last year. They played together for the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs. I had a chat recently with Moon, and tried to pry some information about Rutherford from him. No way. His lips were sealed. There are players, and there are civilians. Darn!
Rutherford’s services will be important to the Blades in the playoffs. He is a crafty centreman, third in team scoring with 24 goals and 27 assists in 56 games. He will miss three or four regular season games until the playoffs start in a couple of weeks.
It is always an added pleasure to leave the arena into Florida heat, plus 24 Celsius. I left the window scraper in the glove compartment.
James Hurst March 25, 2012