By Angela Busch
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – If the Florida Everblades wanted a change after playing Texas 18 times this season, including six playoff games to advance to the American Conference Finals, they’ll get their wish Tuesday night against the Dayton (Ohio) Bombers at Germain Arena.
The winner of this series between Florida and Dayton will advance to the Kelly Cup Finals against the National Conference champion: either the Idaho Steelheads or Alaska Aces. Tuesday’s Game 1 kicks off the seven-game American Conference series; Game 2 will be Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Germain Arena and Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) will be at Nutter Center on the Wright State University campus.
While Florida was all-too familiar with the Texas Wildcatters, the Blades don’t have as much experience against Dayton. The two teams met just once this season, a 4-2 Florida loss on Nov. 4 in Dayton. That loss probably doesn’t bear too much influence on the playoff series — Blades goalie Craig Kowalski did not play, and it was backup David Shantz‘s fourth game as a pro.
Luckily for the Blades, current Florida forward Dan Baum was with Dayton when the two teams met on Nov. 4. Baum started the season with Dayton but played just seven games before being traded to the Phoenix Roadrunners.
“It’s tough to compare the two teams, because it’s just been unreal here in Florida,” Baum said. “They’ve had a couple rough years there, and while I was there they didn’t score a whole lot of goals, but they’ve picked up some good young players and added a lot of talent.”
It has been the player Baum was traded for — Yannick Tifu — who has provided the biggest scoring punch for the Bombers. Tifu was the third top scorer in the ECHL this season, finishing with 28 goals and 60 assists. In Dayton’s 10 playoff games thus far, he has five goals and five assists.
Still, besides Tifu, Baum said the Bombers are a “pretty defensive-minded team.”
“We had three checking lines while I was there, a great goalie, and skilled defensemen,” Baum said.
The goalie Baum referred to is Adam Berkhoel, the ECHL’s Goaltender of the Year during the regular season. He carried a .910 saves percentage and averaged just 2.44 goals against during the regular season. Baum compared Berkhoel to Kowalski, saying both are small, quick goalies who anticipate the puck well.
Kowalski has actually outplayed Berkhoel thus far in the playoffs, carrying a 2.02 goals against average compared to 2.22 for Berkhoel, and a 7-2 record compared to 7-3 for Berkhoel.
Baum also pointed out several differences between Texas and Dayton — saying the main difference lies in personnel. With Texas, according to Baum, there were more key stars to shut down on offense.
“We knew we had to stop (Kevin) Baker, (Mike) Bayrack and (Brandin) Cote,” Baum said. “With Dayton, there’s not necessarily just one line that can hurt you. We have to look out for all of them.”
“Basically, we just have to get them to play our game: high tempo, high speed.”
One thing Florida and Dayton do have in common is a huge momentum surge going into Tuesday night’s game. The Blades are coming off a thrilling overtime victory on Friday night against Texas, when Kowalski saved a penalty shot in OT and recent American Hockey League returnee Chris Lee scored the game-winning goal 15 minutes into the overtime period.
In its North Division finals series, Dayton became the third ECHL team ever to come back from down three games to one in a playoff series. Despite winning the North Division in the regular season, Dayton gave up three of its first four North Division finals games to the Cincinnati Cyclones before coming back to win three in a row.
Published in Naples, Florida, USA by the E.W. Scripps Co.