By Andy Kent
Copyright © 2005 Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. — There won’t be any fear or doubt in Ryan Brindley’s mind come Saturday when his Florida Everblades host the Trenton Titans at Germain Arena in Game 1 of the ECHL’s best-of-seven Kelly Cup Finals.
And when the series shifts to Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J., for Games 3, 4 and 5 next week, Brindley’s confidence level is certain to rise even more.
The reason behind the veteran defenseman’s relaxed demeanor when talking about the National Conference champions is simple — he beat the Titans in their barn twice in the 2001 Kelly Cup Finals. Brindley’s South Carolina Stingrays won the Cup that year in five games over Trenton.
Brindley’s Stingrays won Games 1 and 2 in 2001 in Trenton, 3-2 in overtime and 5-3. Then they lost in double-overtime, 4-3, in Game 3 at home in Charleston, S.C., before winning Games 4 and 5, 6-5 and 3-2.
“Obviously, I have good memories of playing in that rink, we had some success there and those were the biggest games of my career at the time,” said Brindley, who scored 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) in 18 playoff games that year. “So I had a little more incentive rooting for Trenton, and waking up at 2:30 a.m., and seeing that score was pretty exciting.”
The Titans beat Alaska, 2-0, early Tuesday morning Eastern Time to advance to meet the Everblades.
Last year, Brindley was on the other end of the spectrum when the Everblades lost in five games to the Idaho Steelheads in the Kelly Cup Finals. He had began the season in Cincinnati with the struggling Cyclones and was traded to Florida near the trade deadline.
With nobody else on the roster at the time able to tout his name being on the Cup, Brindley quickly became a source of inspiration and information. This year, with seven other players from last year’s team armed with the experience of reaching the finals, he doesn’t have to be the only one to field the questions from the younger players.
“This can only come around once in a lifetime, once in a career,” Brindley said. “The young guys, I think they realize how big of an opportunity we have here. I mean you look around the room, how many guys have won championships in their lives? Not a lot. It’s tough and quite a feat, when you look at the fact there were 28 teams fighting for it.”
Even the experienced veterans like forward Brad Church, who reached the Eastern Conference Finals last year with the Reading Royals but lost to the Everblades in a decisive fifth game, appreciate the value of having a teammate who has won a title at this level in the dressing room.
Church has been a professional hockey player for nine years, just as long as veteran defenseman Shane Hnidy, but has developed a respect not only got Brindley but for defenseman Tim O’Connell, who won a collegiate national championship at the University of North Dakota in 2000.
“Experience goes a long way, and when you have a champion on your roster it’s only going to help,” Church said. “Ryan’s a leader in the room and a voice and when you have a championship under your belt guys are going to listen to you.”
Forward Paul Cabana, who played 23 games for Reading this year before being traded to Florida, and goaltender Tyler MacKay, who had a brief stint with Atlantic City before also being traded to Florida, are the only two Everblades to have seen the Titans this season.
But Church saw plenty of them last year with Reading, and Brindley has no problem drawing on his 2001 Cup Finals experience. In fact, he is counting on it.
“Just knowing that we’re going to be home and have that home ice advantage is one plus,” Brindley said. “And playing a team that I have had success playing against and won a championship against them also helps. Hopefully, I can do it twice in a row. They’ve got a good rink, that ice surface usually is pretty decent, and hopefully they’ll have a good crowd there to keep up the intensity.”