By Angela Busch
Naples Daily News
Going on the road to Dayton, Ohio, for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the American Conference Finals against the Dayton Bombers might actually be a good thing for the Florida Everblades, who are 3-1 on the road thus far in the playoffs.
The Blades will try to continue their road warrior ways starting Saturday night at 7:30 at Wright State’s Nutter Center in Dayton. The series is tied at 1-1 after Dayton won 4-3 in triple overtime on Tuesday night and the Blades won 5-3 Thursday night at Germain Arena.
Throughout the playoffs, Dayton has fared well on the road, too — going 4-2 at home and 5-1 on the road. And while the Blades did slightly better at Germain Arena than on the road during the regular season (23-11-2 vs. 21-11-4); the Bombers maintained a better road record than at the Nutter Center (19-13-4 vs. 18-13-5).
Another positive statistic for the Blades: it was just two weeks ago that Florida took two games out of three from the Texas Wildcatters at Ford Arena, despite Florida’s struggles there during the regular season.
After Game 2 Thursday night at Germain Arena, Blades coach Gerry Fleming said he was ready to go back on the road to Dayton.
“When we’re all together at the hotel, on the road, there are no distractions,” Fleming said. “We are just focused on hockey.”
Of course, numbers and statistics talk can sometimes go right out the window when it comes to playoff hockey. Teams are so fired up, and the prospect of ending the season looms so near, that it can be tough to draw conclusions based on any past performances.
In talking to Blades’ players and coaches, though, it seems there might be something to this idea of “road warriors,” something to the fact that they relish the idea of going on the road and beating a team in its own arena.
Forward Vince Bellissimo, who has nine playoff goals — three of them in the four road games — seemed to agree with his coach.
“We do play hard on the road,” Bellissimo said. “And we just try to keep it simple — no distractions.”
As Bellissimo added, this will be Florida’s most important road trip of the season — obviously. And there’s no definite blueprint for beating a Dayton team that features not just the ECHL Goaltender of the Year in Adam Berkhoel, but also big, physical skaters who have punished the Blades in Games 1 and 2.
For confidence, the Blades will be able to look to the Texas road trip, when they won twice despite a depleted roster due to injuries and call-ups to the American Hockey League.
Now, (almost) everyone is back, and Fleming actually has some options when it comes to putting the roster together. On Tuesday, Jonathan Lehun started at center and Jarret Lukin sat; Thursday night, those roles were reversed. Both Lukin and Lehun have had some injury problems in the playoffs, but they should both be at Fleming’s disposal for Saturday night’s game.