By Angela Busch
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. — Numbers 10 and 14 once darted across the ice at Germain Arena — stalking the puck and slamming it to the back of the net from 1999-2007 for the Florida Everblades.
Now, as announced on Wednesday by the team, 10 and 14 will fly from the rafters at Germain Arena — the numbers and jerseys retired along with the players who once wore them: Reggie Berg (pictured) and Tom Buckley, respectively. The numbers will be officially retired at Germain Arena at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 19, before the Blades 2007-08 season opener against the Mississippi Sea Wolves.
Berg and Buckley are arguably the franchise’s most marquee players in its 10-year existence: Buckley played from 1999-04 and Berg from 1998-07. They rank 1-2 in 10 statistical categories for the Blades, from games played to assists to shorthanded goals.
Florida general manager Craig Brush said the plan to retire the jerseys this year was hastened by Berg’s retirement in July and the fact that this will be the Blades 10th anniversary season.
“(Retiring numbers) isn’t something you do everyday,” Brush said. “The players have to really warrant it … and in many respects (Berg and Buckley) were the face of our team. The numbers speak for themselves, and their careers span almost the entire time we’ve been in existence.”
Some of the numbers: Berg leads the Blades in points and goals with 319 and 145, respectively. Buckley is the assist leader with 207 and ranks first in penalty minutes with 422. Buckley is also second in points (310) and third in goals (108). Berg is second in assists (174) and fifth in penalty minutes (344).
But beyond their impressive statistics, it was Berg and Buckley’s semi-permanence on a minor-league hockey team full of transients that really made an impact in Southwest Florida. Most players are with the Blades for just one or two seasons. ECHL contracts last just one year — Berg and Buckley were definitely exceptions to the rule.
Memories abound: Of Berg’s final game this past season against Texas. Hobbled by a sports hernia and barely able to walk, he somehow scored Florida’s only goal and held his own against much-larger Texas defenseman. Brush also recalls with pride Buckley’s performance in the 2003-04 season, when he was only able to play 20 regular-season games but scored 20 points in 17 playoff games to lead the Blades to their first-ever Kelly Cup Finals appearance.
For two guys from the North, whose dreams of reaching the NHL never came true and playing with a minor-league team in Florida was a twist in the road they’d never anticipated, the retirement of numbers 10 and 14 is for Berg and Buckley proof that success doesn’t always occur as you imagine it will.
From his new home in Minnesota, just over a month after announcing his retirement, the smile is evident in Berg’s voice.
“How about that news!” he said of number 10 being retired on Oct. 19. “It’s something that I never thought would ever happen, but it’s a big honor that they think enough of us to do it.”
Berg, 30, who struggled with injuries throughout his career, announced his retirement and a return to his native Minnesota earlier this summer. It’s clear his love for the game hasn’t diminished at all, though. And in between long hours as a mutual funds wholesaler, Berg has been taking time to work out hard at the gym — probably not coincidentally that this is usually the time each of the past summers that he would start working out hard for another hockey season.
Instead, he is adjusting to a brand-new career and new home. He and wife Christy are still looking for a house in Minnesota.
“Everything is still real crazy and hectic,” he said. “It’s definitely an interesting challenge compared to hockey.”
Still, despite his busy schedule, Berg knows at least one time when he’ll be back in Florida for a Blades game: Oct. 19.
“I still really want them to win that Kelly Cup this year,” he said, ever a team player.
As for Buckley, 31, who retired after that Kelly Cup finals run in 2004, the Buffalo, N.Y., native liked Southwest Florida so much he has decided to stay here. He runs a real estate company and has built a family with wife, Heather, and daughter Piper Lynne, who will become a 1-year-old two days after Buckley’s jersey is retired.
“It’s a pretty big weekend for me,” he said, laughing.
The Blades ended up being more than just a team for Buckley — he met Heather, a Southwest Florida native, when he came to play for the Blades, and now his life is here.
“My family will be raised here,” he said. “I never dreamed of ever playing hockey in Fort Myers, Fla. … but there’s something to be said about the weather and the people. It all worked out pretty well for me.”
And for the Blades, who are building an icy tradition in these sunny shores on the shoulders of players like Berg and Buckley.
© 2007 Naples Daily News and NDN Productions.
Published in Naples, Florida, USA by the E.W. Scripps Co.