By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. — All it took was one crushing hit by Florida Everblades rookie forward Greg Hornby (pictured) to change the momentum and set the tone for a hotly contested playoff series with the Greenville Grrrowl.
Florida skated to a 4-1 victory Friday night in Game 1 of the ECHL’s best-of-five American Conference semifinals at Germain Arena by scoring four unanswered goals. Game 2 is Monday night at 7:30 back at Germain Arena.
An incredible brawl with just over five minutes left in regulation resulted in four players from each team getting tossed and two earning multiple game misconducts — Greenville’s Krys Barch and Florida’s Tim O’Connell.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve seen something like that,” said Everblades backup rookie goaltender Craig Kowalski, who had to go in net for the last five minutes after starter Tyler MacKay was among those ejected. “It doesn’t happen in college.”
But it was Hornby’s check on Grrrowl forward Vladimir Gusev in the second period that completely changed everything for both teams.
With Greenville clinging to a 1-0 lead, Hornby swooped in and leveled Gusev down along the boards in Greenville’s end, then got Grrrowl forward David Herring to retaliate and commit a roughing penalty. It happened on Hornby’s first shift of the second period and third of the game, and led to many more.
Gusev had to be helped off the ice, then the Everblades converted on the power play at the 6:25 mark when Paul Cabana cleaned up the rebound of David Lundbohm’s shot from the far post. Kris Vernarsky created the opportunity by walking the puck into the slot and firing the first shot on net, and the game was tied 1-1.
“My role is just to spark the team. I’m an energy guy,” Hornby said. “I just try to go out there and get some big hits and get the game going and give some energy on the bench to the guys. The hit sparked the team because it led to an undisciplined hit by their guy and the power play was able to capitalize.”
Clearly the momentum was on Florida’s side, and Damian Surma increased it when he flew down the right side of the ice after a loose puck, skated in from the back line and somehow lifted the puck over Grrrowl goalie Mike Brodeur’s left shoulder and into the net for a 2-1 lead at 10:30.
With 7:25 left in the period, the Blades went from being down 18-12 in shots to up 21-19. By the time Ernie Hartlieb scored at the 15:46 mark, they were on a 14-2 run of shots. Hartlieb fired the puck from the high slot and after Brodeur made the initial save the puck bounced off a couple of players and into the net.
The two teams went into the final intermission with Florida holding a 3-1 lead.
“It got a little out of control,” said Grrrowl coach John Marks.
Lundbohm increased the lead to three goals 3:13 into the third period as he wristed a backhander past Brodeur with a defender draped all over his back. He grabbed the loose puck in the neutral zone and skated it all the way in for the soft goal.
Things got very chippy from there, and exploded into pure mayhem with 5:11 left in front of the Everblades net when Barch ran MacKay, landed on top of him and then started throwing punches. Three other fights broke out, then when Barch finally was pulled off MacKay, the irate goalie went after him and wound up getting in a fight with Richard Pitirri.
When everything settled down, MacKay left the ice bleeding from the forehead and Kowalski finished out the game. MacKay had to get nine stitches to close up the wound.
Fleming, assistant coach Jason Nobili and Everblades team president/general manager Craig Brush met with former NHL referee and ECHL advisor Don Koharski at length after the game to look at tape of the melee. Some changes in the final penalties could take place as the league tries to determine how many suspensions come out of it.
“It was bull. Anytime a guy deliberately runs at your goalie, bottom line it’s (expletive),” Fleming said. “I don’t understand how a linesman can take us down a man already and remove our guy from a play. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I’m mad as hell and it was just a (mess). But it’s huge to get the win in the first game in a short series like this.”