By Ed Reed
ESTERO, Fla. – Rob Zepp had the crooked smirk of a little brother pulling a big prank on his older sibling.
Zepp, the Florida Everblades’ 22-year-old goalie, was gleefully stuffing Power Bars into the pockets of fellow goalie Jeff Maund’s blue shorts as they hung on a hook in the Blades’ locker room Wednesday afternoon.
Zepp could barely hold back his excitement when Maund, 28, returned from his shower and pulled on his shorts.
“What is this?,” Maund bellowed as he started pulling bars from his pockets. “What is this? How many are in here?”
Zepp burst out laughing at a prank well done and explained, “He’s always getting on me for being the one to steal all the Power Bars out of the dressing room.”
That is about as heated as the rivalry between these two players competing for the same position on a Kelly Cup Final-bound team gets.
Maund, who played his rookie season with Florida in 1999-2000, and Zepp, in his second full season with the Blades, split the goaltending duties through much of the regular season.
Maund played in 37 games with a 22-11-3 record, 2.66 goals against average and .918 save percentage. Zepp played in 35 games with a 14-13-7 mark, a 2.95 GAA and .921 save percentage.
But due to his hot play, and a Maund “upper body” injury suffered early in the first-round series against Roanoke, Zepp has been Florida’s postseason workhorse. Zepp has an 8-1 playoff record, including a six-game winning streak, and has been in goal for all three series-clinching wins.
“Circumstances change, that’s the benefit of having two goalies who can play,” Maund said. “We’re enjoying it right now. We’re on a pretty good run, and there’s no point to bickering or stabbing each other in the back. There’s no point, that’s not the way any of us are. You want people to mention your success. If Zepper has to help me do it, that’s the way we’ll do it.”
The only swings or trash talk these two throw at each other come at the ping pong table or over PlayStation2.
After every home game and practice, the duo heads to the ping pong table in the Blades’ locker room for a game or three. And on the road it’s PlayStation’s MVP Baseball 2004.
“We have quite a dynasty going with the Toronto Blue Jays,” Zepp said. “We’re something like 120-14 and Vernon Wells has 117 home runs.”
The two Ontario natives find plenty of time for video games at home as well. Mostly at Maund’s home as the two hang out “three or four, maybe more” nights a week. Zepp, who has a steady girlfriend in Canada, is a regular patron of Jocelynn Maund’s kitchen or else they’re dining at Gulfshore Grill or Charlie’s Boathouse. They will be heading to one of those spots tonight for a two-man pregame meal.
“But we have to be back by 10,” Maund said, “it’s the ‘ER’ season finale.”
Maund and Zepp do find time to talk shop between eating, PlayStation and ping pong.
“We’ll sit and work after practice,” Maund said. “We try to put our two heads together and see what we come up with — certain flaws, holes in what we’re doing and being in the (ECHL) we have to rely on each other. It’s not like they’re flying down goalie coaches.”
Maund did not show many flaws down the regular-season’s final stretch. He distinguished himself as a go-to goalie at that time. Combined with a short American Hockey League call-up for Zepp, Maund started 13 of the final 16 games.
Maund won his last five starts, including two shutouts and a 4-2 decision over Augusta on the last day of the season to seal the Blades’ postseason berth.
It seemed logical to think Maund would be Florida’s playoff goalie. Nope.
Zepp started the first game of the Southern Division semifinal and stopped 39 shots in a 4-3 win. Maund won game two, stopping 37 shots in a 6-3 win. Maund started the third game of the series, but he had a tough night, allowing four goals, before being pulled in a 5-3 defeat on April 9. His injury was announced the next day.
Except for one bad game against Reading in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Zepp has shown no signs of giving up the job. Maund did play the fourth game of the conference finals May 5 and suffered a 4-1 defeat. Zepp was back for the deciding Game 5 and made 36 saves in the 3-2 win.
Goalies are usually considered the backbone of a playoff team, but Florida has made a deserved reputation as an offense-first team. That’s fine with the guys protecting the net.
“All year I don’t think anybody has ever said, ‘Look at the Everblades goalies,’” Maund said. “It’s always, ‘You have to worry about the forwards.’ I don’t mind living in the shadows. Come two weeks from now, we’re holding the cup up knowing we won, that’s fine. There’s not much more you can prove at that point.
Zepp shrugs off the lack of notoriety with a little levity. “You have to have good goalies to get this far. We’ve just gotten lucky. We’re just lucky goalies. We have magnets in our equipment that sucks them all in.”
Florida is hoping those magnets are on high for four more wins.