By Ed Reed
ESTERO, Fla. – Randy Petruk sat on the Florida Everblades’ bench for the first game in Everblades Arena history on Nov. 18, 1998.
The goaltender was on the Blades’ bench again on April 1, 2003, when Florida lost a one-game wild-card playoff to Greenville at Florida’s home-rink, the then-named TECO Arena.
Petruk spent plenty of time on the ice for Florida as well, playing in 95 games during parts of five seasons and compiling a 53-37-10 record.
The 26-year-old goalie will make yet another return to the Estero arena, now named Germain, Saturday but for the first time it’s as a member of an opposing team.
Petruk is scheduled to start for the Mississippi Sea Wolves on Saturday in the second game of a weekend home-and-home series between the two ECHL clubs.
“It’s definitely going to be exciting,” said Petruk, who was traded from Bakersfield (Calif.) to Mississippi on Feb. 19. “Maybe a little nerve-wracking as well. I’d been thinking about that earlier. I looked at the schedule as soon as I was traded and saw we played (Florida) a few times.
“I have a lot of friends, a lot of history and memories there, but it comes down to the game, it’s a job and guys do it all the time, play against their old teams.”
But it will be the first time for Petruk. The only ECHL team Petruk played for between the 1998-99 and 2002-03 seasons was Florida. He spent the entire 2003-04 season with the ECHL’s Cincinnati franchise, which did not play Florida.
Mississippi is a different story. The Sea Wolves are in the South Division with the Blades.
Petruk actually faced his old team for the first time in Biloxi, Miss., on March 1. He made 30 saves to pick up a 4-3 victory.
“I’ve always thought in the past about what it would be like to play an old team,” Petruk said. “I thought it would be nerve-wracking, but I think it would be more nerve-wracking if it were Bakersfield because I was just there. I’ve been away from Florida a couple years now.”
Florida forward Reggie Berg, who played three seasons with Petruk, expects the goaltender to play sharp in his return and to receive a good reception from the crowd.
“We have the best fans around and they really don’t forget anybody,” Berg said. “It’s amazing, you could be gone for a year or two and when you come back they know who you are.”
Petruk said he’s surprised he’s with Mississippi. He signed with Bakersfield Condors soon after his release from the American Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack’s camp in October. He started the season as the Condors’ No. 1 goalie and was the ECHL’s Goalie of the Week for Oct. 22-24.
A high ankle sprain slowed him down and Petruk was placed on injured reserve Nov. 20. That was all the time goalie Yutaka Fukufuji needed to take over the top spot for Bakersfield, which has a 34-15-9 record and is second in the West Division. His emergence made Petruk, who compiled an 11-8-2 mark and 2.94 goals against average for the Condors, expendable and for the first time in his seven-year pro career, he was traded.
Petruk has been rotating starts with the Sea Wolves’ other goaltender, Phil Suave, who is slated to start Friday versus the Blades.
“We wanted to have two quality goalies like them,” Mississippi coach Bob Woods said. “We have a tough schedule to finish the year here. Randy’s come in and played very well for us. We’ll keep rotating until the last week or two and then we’ll go with the hot hand.”
The Sea Wolves have a 31-21-4 record and are ranked eighth in the American Conference. Petruk is just glad he was traded to another team with a chance at the playoffs.
“It’s going OK,” Petruk said. “Obviously I wish things worked out a little better with Bakersfield. They’re a great team and a great bunch of guys. It would have been interesting to see how the playoffs would have gone.”