By Len Bardsley
© 2005 The Times of Trenton
ESTERO, Fla. – It is the great untapped secret, but a few people are protecting it with a little more fervor than others.
When the Titans face the Florida Everblades in Game 1 of the Kelly Cup Finals, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Germain Arena, both coaches will be using lessons learned from previous experience in the finals.
Titans coach Mike Haviland first reached the finals in 2001 as an assistant coach for the Titans, when they lost to the South Carolina Stingrays in five games. Haviland would win it all with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies two years later.
Everblades coach Gerry Fleming came up short last season when the Everblades lost to the Idaho Steelheads in five games.
When asked what he gained from the two finals, the amiable Haviland grins and gives you the look of: “I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you.”
“It was night and day,” Haviland said of the difference between the two trips to the finals. “What I learned the second time … I can’t tell you that, but it was one of the biggest differences in the series.”
Fleming was not too much more forthcoming.
“We have a different focus this year,” Fleming said. “Not to take anything away from what the team accomplished last year, but this year is just a little different.”
The feeling in Florida seems to be, last year was a fun ride, but now the Everblades are here just for business.
“The attitude is we were here last year, but it didn’t work out for us,” Everblades defenseman Tim O’Connell said. “We tried to stay a little more focused. It is real hard to come back and do the same thing twice. Everyone has come in and stuck together and played well together.”
It is clear both coaches are big on not making the same mistake twice, so Saturday’s game takes on an air of intrigue.
The Titans have had trouble making the transition from one series to the next, losing in Game 1 to the Reading Royals in the North Division Finals and getting crushed by the Alaska Aces in Game 1 of the National Conference Finals.
The Everblades lost the first two games of the Kelly Cup Finals last season at home to Idaho.
Something has to give Saturday.
“It will be a challenge,” Titans captain Rick Kowalsky said of picking up where the Titans left off in Game 7 of the National Conference Finals. “They (Everblades) have had a little more rest and have not traveled like we have. We have to come out and worry about the way we have played hockey. We have to put that kind of effort (like Game 7) on the ice and not look past the first 20 minutes.”
Titans veteran forward Scott Bertoli is confident the team is not about to relax or use the long travel back and forth from Alaska as an excuse for anything but a supreme effort Saturday.
“We will pick it up,” Bertoli said. “What is at stake is so big. We have had time to recuperate. We understand we beat three pretty good teams. It was a huge accomplishment, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. We will be ready.”