By Will Graves
Copyright © 2005 Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – Ah, the power of technology.
Thanks to a little assist from Germain Arena audio-visual supervisor Sean McHale, Florida Everblades head coach Gerry Fleming and assistant coach Jason Nobili watched Game 7 of the ECHL National Conference Finals between Alaska and Trenton in the intimate, if not exactly cozy confines of their Germain Arena office.
After McHale hardwired the TV set in the office to pick up the action in Trenton’s 2-0 victory — hope Comcast doesn’t find out about that — Fleming and Nobili spent half the night breaking down what makes the Titans tick.
By the time Fleming returned to Germain Arena on Tuesday morning for practice, the phone line to his office was buzzing with calls from fellow ECHL coaches giving their thoughts on how the Everblades can emerge from their Kelly Cup Finals match-up against the Titans with the Cup aloft over their head.
Trading information is a common courtesy coaches extend to each other this time of year. It’s also a pretty helpful way to gauge a team you haven’t come within 300 miles of all season.
Game 1 will mark the first time in Florida’s seven-year history it will be on the same sheet of ice as Trenton.
Yet all the scouting, all the video breakdowns and all the writing on the eraser board only go so far. The Blades know they won’t really know about the Titans until about, say 10 p.m., on Saturday night following Game 1 at Germain Arena.
“For both of us, Trenton and ourselves, it’s going to be a little bit tough because it’s uncertain,” said Florida forward Reggie Berg after Thursday morning’s practice. “Nobody really knows what’s going on. You have to go out there and do what Gerry and Jason ask of us and just kind of figure it out as we go.”
And hopefully figure it out a little bit faster than they did last year, when Idaho came into Germain Arena and took the first two games of the Finals en route to winning the championship in five games.
Though as Fleming likes to reiterate, this isn’t last year, when the Blades finally broke through after several seasons of playoff futility to make the Cup Finals for the first time in team history.
“I think some of the lessons that we took, we’ll apply to this year,” Fleming said. “I think the main lesson is you have to be focused and concentrate and not let all the hype and the media attention and everything that goes along with being the last two teams in the league playing for the championship (get to you).”
The team that’s successful will be the team that adapts to the opponent’s style of play the fastest.
Florida goaltender Tyler MacKay, who faced the Titans during the regular season while playing for the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies before being traded to the Blades on Feb. 4, said the National Conference is a little bit slower, a little bit more physical, than the Southern Conference.
“During the game you can feel the difference in the game,” MacKay said. “I just think the North is a lot more clutch-and- grab. It’s not quite as wide open.”
But the Blades, arguably one of the league’s fastest teams, have been able to navigate their way through a postseason in which they’ve faced three very different opponents. South Carolina tried to bully them in the opening round. Didn’t work.
Greenville tried to skate with them. Didn’t work. Charlotte tried to do a little bit of both.
That didn’t work either.
“We’ve seen both ends of the spectrum of skill and physical play,” Berg said. “We’ve adapted well on both sides and we’re still playing. The key for us is to stay disciplined and focused and stick to the game plan.”
A game plan that doesn’t necessarily have to figure out a way to stop the Titans.
“It’s a situation where we’ve got to worry about our game the most, and make them keep up with us, have them adjust to what we’re doing,” said Florida veteran forward Brad Church, who saw a lot of the Titans last year when he played for the Reading Royals. “We’ve been playing great hockey all throughout the playoffs. Even the games we lost we had a chance to win all those games.
We’ve got to play our same style and take the play to them.”