By Ed Reed
ESTERO, Fla. – The Florida Everblades are not going to let seating capacity get in the way of their fans watching Game 5 of the ECHL Eastern Conference Finals at TECO Arena on Monday night.
In what is turning into a “Bladesapalooza,” TECO Arena will convert one of its recreational rinks into a hockey theater where a closed-circuit TV feed of the 7:30 p.m. game against the Reading Royals will be shown. An outside stage will also be set up for a free concert starting at 5 p.m. by local band Soupy Tuna. Food and drinks will be sold in the parking lot prior to the game.
With the best-of-5 series tied at two games apiece, the winner of Monday’s game will advance to the Kelly Cup Final and face the Idaho Steelheads, the Western Conference champions.
“It’s the way the series has gone and the way the last game was attended, we want to make sure we accommodate as many fans as possible,” Florida Everblades president and general manager Craig Brush said.
Florida drew a record crowd of 7,734 to the second game of the series last Friday at TECO Arena and those fans cheered the Blades onto a 5-3 win and a two games to none series lead. Reading won both of its home games to force a decisive fifth game.
“We can’t complain about our fans, to get 7,000-plus for a game and the atmosphere they brought is fantastic,” Florida forward Reggie Berg said. “Obviously, it’s a boost to know they’re behind you.”
The arena’s seating capacity is 7,080 before standing-room only tickets. As of 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, Florida had less than 300 seats available. The team will also sell 500 standing room tickets.
After that fans can buy a ticket for $5 to watch the game on one of the three screens set up in Rink 2. The rink can hold 2,000 seats and will have two 12-foot screens and a 10-foot screen.
“In Idaho they had a tent to accommodate fans, they only have 5,000 seats,” Brush said. “We had a meeting (Friday) morning and it developed into that.”
The game will be televised in Reading, Pa., but not locally, because the Royals booked the TV truck first. Florida will pipe that feed into Rink 2 and use its radio broadcast off WWCN-AM (770) for audio.
To accommodate the extra cars, the Blades have reached an agreement with Florida Gulf Coast University to provide additional parking in lots 4 and 5 at the school. There will be a shuttle service and for $1 fans will be transported between the university and arena.
The ECHL also finalized the Kelly Cup final schedule Friday and if the Blades win, they won’t have to travel to Idaho for a while.
Although the Steelheads hold the home-ice advantage over the Blades, Idaho agreed that the best-of-7 series can start in Florida on Friday and Saturday, May 14 and 15. ECHL finals are usually split in a 2-3-2 series with the higher seed playing the first two and last two games at home. The Steelheads agreed to play 2-3-1-1, with three straight games, if necessary, and the possible seventh game being played in Boise.
TECO Arena is booked May 17-23, the week the Blades would have had to host their three games. Estero, Riverdale, Lehigh and Cypress Lake high schools are holding graduations in the arena that week, There also is a concert by Perfect Circle on Saturday, May 22.
“We agreed to go ahead and help them out,” Idaho president Bill Waller said.
“We talked with our coach, and he obviously had to agree to it, but he feels this structure is something they’d be willing to move forward with.”
If Reading wins, the Royals will play Idaho in a normal 2-3-2 format.
“We’ve been talking almost every day on various issues and what-if scenarios,” Waller said. “No one wants to get ahead of themselves, but you have to do pre-planning.”
The only game Brush said he’s concerned about right now will be played Monday.
“We’re glad with any kind of schedule after that,” Brush said.