By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
BOISE, Idaho — It was setting up as such a perfect storybook script for Tom Buckley and Reggie Berg, and it still could be.
But the size of the mountain that now stands in front of the two Florida Everblades linemates and the rest of the team is about as daunting as it comes.
With the Idaho Steelheads holding a 3-0 lead in the best-of- seven ECHL Kelly Cup Finals, the Everblades have their backs firmly planted against a wall.
Buckley and Berg, best friends and best men at each other’s weddings, would like nothing better than to rewrite the ending as a happy one for Southwest Florida.
“Obviously, the story has kind of hit a little rock here,” Buckley said Thursday morning. “All I’ve been thinking about is playing hockey with a renewed passion for the game, and going this far into the playoffs makes you appreciate how much you missed the game, so I’m not ready for this ride to end.”
Buckley came out of retirement on Feb. 13 to play the last 20 games of the regular season. Berg ended his one-year retirement last October in time to show up for training camp, and then spent the next five months trying to convince his friend to join him.
When Buckley returned, Berg was on the injured reserve still trying to recover from his second concussion of the season and fourth of his career. Berg wasn’t sure he’d be able to suit up again.
“I’ve obviously questioned myself a lot toward the middle of the season about coming back when I had the concussions and wasn’t playing,” Berg said. “But being out on the ice, it’s something you realize you’re in love with and I realized that last year when I wasn’t playing, and I want to keep going as long as I can.”
It’s only fitting that Buckley and Berg still sit atop the ECHL leaderboard in playoff scoring, with Buckley’s 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists) followed by Berg’s 18 (5 goals, 13 assists).
They’ve been on Florida’s top line since the opening series against Roanoke, and combined on the game-winning goal in Game 5 against the Reading Royals that put the Everblades into the Kelly Cup Finals.
So it is natural that the two will lean on each other when it comes to deciding how much hockey, if any, is left in their systems once this series ends.
“It’s always nice to play with someone you know and it made the transition a little easier,” Buckley said of the role Berg played in his comeback. “What he does, you never want to say you’re going to base it completely on somebody else, but I’m sure we’ll talk about it.”
Perhaps getting this close to bringing a championship back to Southwest Florida will just fuel the duo’s competitive fires even more.
“I think both of us will use each other as sounding boards, but we’ve had fun,” Berg said.
“We’re lucky to be able to play this game together and in Florida. And from that point it makes it easier to want to come back. Our families are unbelievable and behind us 100 percent in whatever we decide to do.”
That includes the Everblades family.