Thursday, April 04, 2013


Let the Playoff games Begin!

                                 Coach Gregg Poss, Owner Craig Brush, Ryan McGinnis 

The regular season has concluded; the playoffs have arrived. The Florida Everblades of the ECHL have begun their quest to repeat as champions of the league. Last May, in overtime, they defeated the Las Vegas Wranglers to win their first Kelly Cup.

For team owner, Craig Brush, it was a relief. The team struggled through all of the woes of the hockey wars to come out on top. Even the thought of just making the playoffs was vague in February. There were no guarantees. Much of the credit for getting to the top has been credited to the coaching staff, and rightly so: Head Coach Greg Poss, and his main assistant, Brad Tapper.

The ECHL is described as a “AA” professional league. Essentially, it supplies the American Hockey League affiliates with players, when their rosters get thin. That happens when the NHL teams pluck players from the AHL teams. Consequently, the ECHL teams have to scramble to find players to play the game. They come from all ranks. With the NHL lockout, this was especially difficult this year.

Some are college players from American and Canadian colleges. The current number one netminder of the Everblades is Jesse Deckert. He arrived just at the right time, and has only been beaten once in 11 starts for the ‘Blades. The Winnipeg native played junior hockey in the Western Hockey League with Regina, Tri City and Prince Albert, before registering at the University of Manitoba. He spent five years there, and led his team to the semi-finals this spring.

He will be backed up by Brady Hjelle, who has arrived from Ohio State. John Muse was the MVP of the Kelly Cup playoffs last year, and he has been designated as a “Playoff Eligible” player for the “Blades. Pat Nagle stopped a lot of pucks for the Florida team last year, and he also could step between the pipes. Rob Madore, another former ‘Blade, is currently with the AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. He also might get the nod.

To complicate the issue a little more, keep in mind that the team also has connections with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL. And of course, any players that have finished their season in the CHL might also find work in the ECHL. Any player who has played five games in the ECHL as a member of the ‘Blades is eligible for the playoffs.

                                                    Brad Tapper and Mario Lemieux

Tapper played for Poss in Germany for the Nuermberg Ice Tigers. His career was shortened by injury in 2009, when he took his hockey knowledge behind the bench of one of the Toronto-based teams in the OPJHL. We met at the old “DukeDome” in Wellington when his team faced the Dukes. Poss appreciates Tapper’s work: “He is good at skill development, and has a great rapport with the players. He runs the defence during the games.”

In one of the last regular season games, the ‘Blades faced the Orlando Solar Bears, a franchise re-established this year after a ten tear hiatus. A couple of former Belleville Bulls skated with the Bears: Michael Neal and Ryan Berard.

After his years with the Bulls, Neal played three years with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL, with stints in the AHL with the Texas Stars. This season, he has registered 32 points in 44 games with the Solar Bears. Berard spent almost three years with the Bulls, beginning in 2003. In 2008, he signed on at Carleton University in Ottawa. He recently joined the Bears.

The Blades face the Elmira Jackals this weekend at the Germain Arena. Thus begins their quest for another Kelly Cup. Only six players remain from last year’s championship squad. Days of ninety degree heat surround the rink. No matter. Throw a jacket over your arm for the game.

James Hurst

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