By Craig Handel
ESTERO, Fla. – They don’t know, and they don’t care.
Florida Everblades players had those responses when asked about the team’s star-crossed playoff history.
In every one of their 11 seasons, the Everblades have made the playoffs but have never won the ECHL championship, called the Kelly Cup. They’ve also compiled an impressive 22-17 road playoff record, but just a 24-23 mark at home.
“I have no idea what it’s been like in the past, whether teams flopped in the past,” said defenseman Peter Metcalf (pictured). “And honestly, we don’t really care.”
Tonight, the Everblades will open the playoffs and their 11th shot at a championship when they host the Gwinnett Gladiators at Germain Arena.
“I don’t worry about the past, I worry about the present,” said Florida coach Malcolm Cameron, who has had his playoff challenges. “The grind of a playoff run is equal to or greater than the 25 weeks of the regular season.”
Forward Ernie Hartlieb, one of just two players who’ve been in the postseason for the Everblades — center Brad Herauf is the other — said, “Winning a championship is a combination of good luck, bounces, skill, everything. The moon has to be aligned and everything comes together.”
This team seems to be coming together. The Everblades have won eight of their last 10 games on the way to capturing the Brabham Cup for best winning percentage in the ECHL. However, Florida also won the Brabham Cup in the 1999-2000 season, only to get bounced from the playoffs by another team from Georgia – Augusta.
John Marks, whose 2001-02 Greenville team rallied to beat Florida in five games, then won the Kelly Cup, said that attitude, discipline and attention to details are huge keys in the postseason.
“You’ll know if this team is ready at playoff time if you have a group of players who stay out of the sun,” Marks said. “The sun will just drain you. You just gotta stay out of the sun, especially on game days.
“Guys have to pick their spots. It’s easy to sit in the sun and have a piña colada. Now, if you have too many, now you’re really in trouble. It’s a double whammy.
“And how dedicated were teams in previous years? Some guys come from up north and all of a sudden, it’s whoop-de-do, let’s party. They think they can get by on ability.
“It’s going to be a grind.”
There are a couple of key factors that seem to favor the Everblades.
One is that the ECHL has expanded the first-round series from a best-of-5 games to a best-of-7.
Florida has a 10-4 edge in the series against Gwinnett this season.
“But the playoffs are a totally different game,” Gwinnett defenseman Chris Cava said. “People don’t look at how well you do in the regular season.
“It’s either play hard and go a long way or go back home to your summer job.”