By Andrew Sodergren
Naples Daily News
The Florida Everblades have been one of the most successful ECHL franchises since its inception nine years ago, making the playoffs every year and playing for the Kelly Cup twice.
Yet, the team could have looked drastically different if it was sold two years ago.
Carolina Hurricanes owner and principal Everblades owner Peter Karmanos Jr. nearly sold the team to the Brooks group — an organization headed by brothers Robert and James Brooks which owns the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers and the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. The Brooks group signed a letter of intent and exclusivity agreement to buy the Everblades and Germain Arena in 2005, but Karmanos decided to pull the plug on the deal and retain ownership of the club.
Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford was involved in the negotiations at the time.
“There’s always going to be interest in a franchise like the Everblades and Germain Arena,” Rutherford said. “They’re an extremely successful franchise with a tremendous fanbase and the location in Southwest Florida makes it attractive for any potential buyer. It wasn’t a case where the team had to be sold, and ultimately it was decided that it wouldn’t be sold.”
Everblades general manager Craig Brush is part of the Everblades’ ownership group with Karmanos and Bonita Springs resident Thomas Thewes — KTB Sports.
Brush is happy with the way things worked out.
“I can imagine one day where I won’t be doing what I’m doing, but not anytime soon,” he said. “I enjoy my job and want to continue to do it in the future.”
Brush was still recovering from Friday night’s Game 7 loss to Dayton at Germain Arena in the American Conference finals. The Everblades missed out on a berth in the Kelly Cup finals against Idaho.
“It’s never easy recovering from something like this,” Brush said. “When you’re in the playoffs, it sort of takes over your whole life and when it suddenly ends, it’s like a death in the family.”
Brush said it generally takes a week for him to rebound from a season-ending loss in the playoffs.
“You find yourself waking up thinking about it,” he said. “We didn’t play a good game (in Game 7), especially considering how well we played in Game 6. You always think of what you might have done differently.”
Brush said the most frustrating aspect of the loss was not delivering an American Conference championship to the Germain Arena fans.
“I looked up in the stands and saw a near-capacity crowd,” he said. “It would have been some party if we could have gotten it done.”
Rutherford commended Brush for the job he’s done over the last nine seasons.
“Craig works real hard to get the best players,” Rutherford said. “It’s just a good minor league organization all around. Being affiliated with two NHL teams certainly helps, but Craig’s experience and background makes him so successful.”