By Craig Handel
ESTERO, Fla. – Craig Brush calls this the deepest Florida Everblades team in his 11 years as president and general manager.
That depth will be needed when the Everblades and host South Carolina Stingrays play Games 3, 4 and 5 of their second-round ECHL playoff series on consecutive days. That action will begin at 7:05 p.m. on Friday.
“I really think that,” Brush said of the depth. “All 13 forwards and eight defensemen are top six, top four in terms of ability. It’ll be a difficult balancing act for (coach) Malcolm (Cameron) on who will be in the lineup.
“We wanted to have the strongest team possible because we knew there would be seven-game series. This is our chance to demonstrate our depth with three (games) in three nights.”
Cameron said he plans to play all 21 of his skaters over the three games. As he said, “What’s the point of having depth if you don’t use it?”
Since ECHL playoff teams can dress only 16 skaters – normally 10 forwards and six defensemen – Cameron can utilize five new players nightly.
Without depth, coaches often will reduce players’ shifts on the ice during the playoffs from about 90 seconds to 30 or 35. However, with the Everblades’ depth, Cameron can keep his lines on the ice longer if they’re having a strong shift or a favorable matchup.
“Depth is huge, that’s why we built this team,” Cameron said. “We’re as deep as anybody.”
Florida gave an idea of how good its depth was when it went to Charlotte, N.C.; Gwinnett, Ga.; South Carolina, back to Gwinnett, then back to Charlotte for five games in six days from Jan. 13-18. The Everblades won all five.
“We just battled,” defenseman Doug O’Brien said. “Every game. We worked our (butts) off and we came out with five wins. We surprised a lot of people.”
While Cameron noted that Florida beat teams that were off the day before it played them in January, South Carolina will be in the same boat for this weekend’s three-game grind.
Cameron and his players said the first thing to go when they’re tired is the brain.
“They tend to do what we call ‘puck stare,’ ” Cameron said. “They’re not aware of what is going on behind him. That’s where mental toughness comes.
“And as you get tired, you like to stay away from danger areas. You don’t want to go near the volcano as it starts to bubble. You pay an awful price to go to the net.”
Florida goaltender David Leggio also will be challenged because he’s likely to play all three games of the series. Brush said he doesn’t expect Anton Khudobin to be back anytime soon after his goaltending helped the Houston Aeros move into the second round of the American Hockey League playoffs.
“I’m prepared and ready for it,” Leggio said. “I’ve trained hard all year.”
Leggio said he’ll lose close to 5 pounds a night. He said he’ll drink plenty of water, Gatorade and juice over the next 72-96 hours.
“With this time of the year, it’s focus,” Leggio said.