By Chris Umpierre
ESTERO, Fla. – After being swept in the first round of the 2008 ECHL playoffs, the Florida Everblades changed almost everything about their hockey personnel.
From their new coach to their 22 new players to their new jerseys that they will break out tonight, almost everything is different in Bladesville.
“It’s a chance to start a new decade,” said first-year Blades coach Malcolm Cameron, whose club will start its 11th ECHL season on Friday. “Sometimes things get stale, so I think we’ll have a fresh outlook this year.”
And it’s a positive one.
The Hockey News predicted the Blades, who have five former ECHL All-Stars on their opening night roster, will win the 23-team league. Florida has never won an ECHL championship.
“Whoever wrote that article thinks highly of our talent but at the same time we don’t want to read into our press clippings too much and think we’re better than we are,” Blades rookie goalie David Leggio said.
“We still have to go out and prove that we are the number one team in the league.”
With the talent on their roster, Florida figures to be hit with call-ups to the American Hockey League – which is one step above the ECHL.
Cameron, who is in his 10th season of coaching, is fully aware of the transience of the ECHL. He knows there will be a lot of ups and down during the 72-game campaign.
Cameron, 39, has built a team that should be comparable to the 2007-08 Texas Wildcatters.
Cameron brought over eight players to Estero from his Texas club that went 52-9-11 last year. The team’s 115 points, which tied Cincinnati’s total, were the second most in the 20 years of the ECHL, one behind the record set by Louisiana in 2001-02.
The group of former Wildcatters should only benefit the team as long as the squad doesn’t get raided by AHL clubs.
Forward Kevin Baker, who scored 137 points (65 goals) for Texas over the past two seasons, was arguably the team’s biggest offseason acquisition. Anton Khudobin, who won the 2007-08 ECHL Goaltender of the Year award with Texas, should also be a difference maker.
“We’re probably more skilled up front than we were last year,” said Blades forward Ross Carlson, who is part of the group who played at Texas. “But defensively, you’ll never know.”
Carlson said he doesn’t put much stock in The Hockey News’ prediction.
“It’s early in the season,” Carlson said. “You can’t predict anything and if you could, you’d be Scotty Bowman.”