By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – Everblades fans can breathe easy.
There will be hockey this weekend after all.
Just before 11 a.m. Wednesday, team president and general manager Craig Brush confirmed that the two games against the Las Vegas Wranglers rescheduled for Friday and Saturday nights were back on — even though the phones still weren’t working inside Germain Arena.
“We’re anxious to get going,” Brush said before heading down to the team’s dressing room to pass on the good news to head coach Gerry Fleming and the team. “It’s been a long time, it seems, so we hope everybody can make it out to the games. We’ll be raising the (American Conference championship) banner and we’re also giving out the magnetic schedules.”
Both games start at 7:30 p.m., and fans interested in purchasing tickets can e-mail vice president of marketing Josh Schwinghamer at email@example.com or director of sales Nathan Goslin at firstname.lastname@example.org because the phone lines at Germain are still down. Only outgoing calls can be made.
While the arena’s maintenance crew was pulling up the boards covering the ice in the main rink — the same boards that served as sleeping quarters for thousands of Hurricane Wilma evacuees the past four days — the Red Cross was supervising the departure of those remaining few who were being transported to other shelters.
As of 5 p.m. today, the arena officially will be deactivated as a shelter and resume operation as a private facility. Brush remained sympathetic, as did his team, to the families most affected by the storm, and they are hoping this weekend’s game will prove to be cathartic for the community.
“I think it’s an escape for everybody here,” said veteran forward Ernie Hartlieb as he prepared for another practice. “To get everybody’s mind off of what had happened this weekend, to bring a little positive and a little fun back into people’s lives, just to get life back to normal is going to be a big thing, especially this weekend with the banner raising.
“So I think it’s going to be good that we’re allowed to play this game and hopefully good that people get to come out and witness it and have a good time and get their minds off the hurricane and the damage that has happened.”
In addition to the status of the shelter, Brush had to wait to find out about a few more things regarding the building before he could call ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna and tell him it was a go.
“We were waiting on damage reports and we do have some damage on the roof, but the air handlers are all functioning right now, so its sheet metal damage primarily,” Brush said. “We still don’t have phones, we’re hoping that Sprint can come through and get out phones working. We need them to sell tickets. We also knew that Vegas can get in because Miami’s airport is open, so I don’t think they’re going to have any problems. They’re leaving late tonight and flying on the red-eye.”
The Wranglers actually were on a bus bound for the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport on Oct. 19 planning to fly to Fort Myers when they got word that the first two games of the season were postponed a week.
The delay allowed them more time to practice and to get a 2-1 home win over the Utah Grizzlies this past Tuesday under their belt.
“I don’t think the guys really wanted to go into a hurricane and risk being stranded,” said third-year Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan. “We just took the extra days to practice and prepare.
“Lucky enough we had the weekend to regroup.”
After a scheduled arrival in Miami of 7 a.m. today, Las Vegas will bus across Alligator Alley and Gulutzan plans to practice the players to stretch their legs.
They will take the ice after the Everblades finish their practice.
The two teams will go through pre-game skates Friday morning and then the puck will drop on Florida’s 2005-06 season later that evening.