By Andy Kent
Copyright © 2005 Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – During the three 20-minute periods that make up a hockey game, it’s easy to lose track of which line is on the ice.
However, of all the lines the coaches roll out, the third line can be the easiest to overlook while, at the same time, the most important. Most teams without a solid third line never make the playoffs, or if they do, they don’t go very far.
The Florida Everblades have sped through the first two rounds of the 2005 ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs thanks to a consistent and interchangeable third line centered by Kris Vernarsky (pictured).
He’s had Keith Anderson, Chris Lee, Ernie Hartlieb, Brandon Coalter and Greg Hornby as his wingers, with Anderson and Hartlieb in the lineup Monday night against the Charlotte Checkers in Game 1 of the best-of-seven American Conference Finals. That will be the line again tonight for Game 2 at 7:30 at Germain Arena.
“Playing with Vernarsky and Chris Lee I thought was a great combination, and now it’s Vern, Ernie and I,” said Anderson, who, in six playoff games, has scored six points (2 goals, 4 assists) and is a plus-3. “I think we’re all three big, strong guys and I think we play well together and I think we attack the net and control the puck down low, and that’s big. We were matched up against their top line (Monday) night and I think we did a pretty good job.”
Florida is 7-1, exactly halfway to the number of wins needed to be league champions. The players have been wearing T- shirts with the words “Mission 14W” emblazoned on the back, which is the total number of wins required from the beginning of the playoffs to win it all.
That third line has accounted for 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) and is a combined plus-13, with Anderson, Hartlieb, Lee and Vernarsky scoring all the points. Coalter and Hornby provide the energy and change of pace.
“All the guys can play in here, and (head coach) Gerry (Fleming) has got three solid lines and we’ve got extra guys right now that are sitting out that come in and chip in,” Vernarsky said. “I’ve played with a different group pretty much every game, but we always get the job done. We’re always working, we’re always taking the body, just getting opportunities and helping our team win. That’s all I can ask for out of the guys I play with.”
And that’s all Fleming can ask for out of his third line.