By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – Brandon Coalter doesn’t have a letter on his Florida Everblades jersey identifying him as one of the team captains, but that’s probably because there isn’t one big enough, according to his coaches and teammates, to match the size of his heart.
So on Mar. 10 when associate coach Jason Nobili had to leave Germain Arena abruptly during the first intermission of Florida’s ECHL game against the Columbia Inferno to check on his infant son at the hospital, head coach Gerry Fleming knew who to turn to in what could easily be defined as a time of crisis. Earlier in the first period, veteran forward and alternate captain Ernie Hartlieb went down with a high left ankle sprain and had to be helped off the ice.
“When Gerry came in and told us that Nobs had to go to the hospital I think immediately everybody kind of looked around, and Gerry made a comment that this is just a game,” said Everblades goaltender Phil Osaer, who was not in net that night.
“Then a few minutes later we all heard it and Gerry said, ‘Where’s Coaltsy? Come on the bench with us.’ And we all kind of smiled because Coaltsy’s the type of guy that he would do anything for this team … He’d change a tire on the bus if we needed him to.”
And there was Coalter, 27, dressed in a suit because he was on the seven-day injured reserve at the time, standing next to Fleming behind the Everblades bench with the score tied 1-1. It was a pivotal game for Florida, as all of them down the stretch in the regular season are with a first-round bye at stake, and Coalter just wanted to help out as best he could.
The Everblades wound up blowing out the Inferno, 7-2, in one of their more inspired and complete performances of the season, and Coalter was quick to point out the correlation between their scoring barrage and his new role. So when he was called upon again the next night, with Nobili still unavailable, he embraced the chance.
“Again, not too many players can get an opportunity to stand on that side of the fence for a game or two and just kind of be in the background there,” Coalter said. “You see things a lot different. You see the backs of everyone’s heads and their nameplates on their backs, and the second game Gerry told me to be in control of the defense. It was kind of a little nerve-racking. I played ‘D’ most of my life and when I came in here I was a forward. … Guys definitely helped me out, I give them credit, they played really well.”
But unlike former teammate Brad Church, who signed on with the United Hockey League’s Missouri River Otters at the beginning of the year as a player/assistant coach but later was released, Coalter is realistic about his coaching aspirations. His eyes are focused on a career in firefighting after he’s done playing, which is why he went through firefighting school with another former teammate, Matt Pagnutti, last summer.
His personality and instincts do lend Coalter to things involving teaching and directing. He has coached kids in everything from hockey to water skiing to wake boarding and volleyball and he enjoys working at that level. Coalter is considering helping ex-Blade Jim Brown coach a Bantam or Midget hockey team next year.
“He did fine in a very limited role,” Fleming said of Coalter’s appearance behind the bench. “It was just good to have him back there just to have an extra set of eyes behind the bench, so while play is going on and you’re looking at the clock or at the other team’s personnel he may see something that you’re not seeing or are not able to focus on. So he did a good job. He’s enthusiastic and brought a lot of energy and tried to keep guys up.”
Osaer was impressed by the reception Coalter got from the fans last Saturday night when he was announced as the interim assistant coach, saying the cheers were louder than the ones given to the starters, and that showed how much he means to Southwest Florida.
But Coalter is realistic about how effective his coaching was over those two games, and while appreciative of the gesture made by Fleming at the time, he isn’t considering a drastic career change — at least not right now. “At this level I mean two games, I wasn’t really coaching. I was filling in for Jay, Jay’s a coach, Gerry’s a coach,” said Coalter, who was activated off the 7-day IR on Friday night and played in Florida’s 2-1 shootout win over Augusta on the road.
“I’m a player that just stood there and kind of kept the boys full of energy on the bench, and that’s the only thing I was trying to do was bring energy, not my knowledge of the game.
“I’m a grinder and a checker and I’m going to definitely tell them to work hard and feed them some positive encouragement when they come to the bench. But they’re old enough to know what to do and how to act. It definitely was a real eye-opener.”