By Craig Handel
ESTERO, Fla. – After another emotionally wracking, heartbreaking home loss that eliminated his team from the ECHL playoffs again, Florida Everblades president and general manager Craig Brush wonders if he’s becoming numb to it all.
But he’s not giving up. And he’s not giving up on coach Malcolm Cameron.
“He has a two-year contract,” Brush said Wednesday afternoon while players cleaned out their lockers. “If there’s a different way to go about it, I don’t know at this point. Malcolm and I will put our heads together to see if another approach would be better.”
With Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to South Carolina in Game 6 of the South Division finals, Florida will be denied the championship Kelly Cup again despite being in the postseason in all 11 of their years in the league.
With a preseason publication ranking them No. 1, seven former all-stars joining the team and even the Everblades talking Kelly Cup or bust, there was just one goal.
“Did we underachieve?” Cameron said. “Absolutely. I’m not going to hide that.
“At times, I was disappointed with the way we responded. But I’ll take the blame because we didn’t have the right personnel. But you only can do so much as a coach. You can implement the game plan, come up with line matchups and watch video, but I don’t put the skates on. I can’t get guys to be mentally prepared.”
Florida assistant coach John Marks, who praised Cameron’s preparation, said, “You have to call a spade a spade. We had some guys underachieve. That may sound like I’m throwing them under the bus, but your best players have to perform. When you only get a goal or two from your best players, you can’t win. That’s how it is.”
While players and coaches didn’t appear to be devastated Wednesday, there were poignant comments.
“We fell short, it hurts and it’ll stick with me the rest of my life,” forward Ross Carlson said.
“Everyone is crushed,” forward Brad Herauf said.
“All of us were sitting around thinking, ‘Wow, this season is done,’ ” forward Ryan Lang said. “We weren’t expecting it to be done this early.”
Neither was Brush. He called this the deepest Everblades team ever.
Questions flowed Wednesday in attempts to come up with reasons. Among the queries were: Was Cameron too tough on his players? Does he have to change?
Brush said perception isn’t reality and if Cameron was that way, why would numerous players follow him to the next team he coached?
“He tells it like it is and that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Brush said. “I don’t think it’s an issue. I’m saying it’s not any different than any coach we’ve had. When Gerry (Fleming) lost it, he put the fear of God into people. Bob Ferguson could peel paint off walls, too.”
Cameron said he demands hard work. He said he rode players hard early in the season, in order to see if they could handle it mentally. He said that in the second half of the season he didn’t yell nearly as much at his players as he did at his squad in Texas last season.
“This year’s team didn’t respond to criticism,” Cameron said. “We had a lot of guys used to being stars. They didn’t get that level of criticism.”
It’s Cameron’s plan to have a younger team. But no matter the age of the players, there’s a mental toughness that will be needed to meet his and Brush’s demands.
“There was a weight on everybody,” defenseman A.J. Thelen said. “But it doesn’t matter if you play hockey or have a regular job, it’s part of life. Maybe a little more here because of the personnel we had.
“But we all knew that coming in here.”