By Chris Umpierre
ESTERO, Fla. – The Florida Everblades will celebrate their 10th ECHL season in style. The team’s 2007-08 schedule includes a historic road trip to play the Alaska Aces.
The Blades will play three games in Anchorage from Nov. 2-4. The 4,926-mile trip will be the longest between two North American professional teams. The longest NHL road trip occurred in 1905, when the Dawson City (Yukon) Klondikers traveled 4,400 miles to play the Ottawa (Ontario) Silver Seven in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Aces will also make their first trip to the Sunshine State during the upcoming season, to face the Blades on Nov. 28, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at Germain Arena. The ECHL released its 2007-08 schedule Tuesday.
“Wow. That’s going to be quite the trip,” said forward Brent McDonald, who learned about the Blades’ Alaskan trip from a reporter. “That’s great. We’ve had a chance to go out West before by going to California a couple times.
“It’s nice to play a different team. We have to play within our own division so many times that it’s a nice change to play Alaska. Not a lot of players who I know have played there. I’ve never been there.”
Estero and Anchorage are separated by four time zones. It’s roughly a 14-hour flight (with two stops) from Fort Myers to Anchorage, according to cheaptickets.com.
Florida’s trip figures to be a lot easier than that of the Klondikers, who traveled the first 400 miles by dogsled and on foot in temperatures as low as minus-20. After 23 days of travel, Dawson City was swept in two games by a combined score of 31-5.
The farthest road trip in the ECHL’s 19-year history occurred in the 2005 playoffs, when the Trenton (N.J.) Titans made a 4,444-mile trek to play the Aces.
Florida would’ve played Alaska in the 2005 Kelly Cup Finals if the Aces had beaten Trenton in that series. Blades general manager Craig Brush said at that time that a 30-member trip to Anchorage would cost $20,000.
In addition to making history, Brush wanted to do something special for season No. 10.
“We tried to play (Alaska) in the playoffs, but it hasn’t worked out,” Brush said. “This was a good opportunity because our flight schedule works out. We’re going to be flying direct from Houston after we play (the) Texas (Wildcatters). Hopefully, this will create some interest for our fans and their fans.”
Florida and Alaska have been two of the league’s winningest teams over the past five years. Alaska captured the 2006 ECHL title. The clubs are also perennially near the top in attendance figures.
McDonald gushed at the possibility of playing at Sullivan Arena. The Aces have had 36 sellouts in the past four years. Per tradition, Alaskan fans throw fish heads, often 50-pound king salmons, onto the ice after the home team scores its first goal.
Florida will almost surely be greeted by a sellout crowd. The Friday, Nov. 2 game will be Alaska’s 2007-08 home opener.
The Blades are scheduled to open the 2007-08 season at home Friday, Oct. 19 and Saturday, Oct. 20 against the Mississippi Sea Wolves. Mississippi couldn’t play during the past two seasons due to damage from Hurricane Katrina.
Brush said the team might release some changes to its schedule today. Don’t be surprised if there are more changes before October. ECHL schedules figure to change when the NBA releases its 2007-08 schedule, since some ECHL clubs play in NBA arenas. In the past, league schedules have been altered by hurricanes.