By Chris Umpierre
ESTERO, Fla. – It was an hour before his team hit the ice for practice and Brad Church was inside the tiny coaching office of Germain Arena’s visitor’s locker room.
Seated on a metal chair in the back of the office, Church had his head down, drawing up plays on his dry-erase board. He was going to present those plays to his team at practice.
“Coaching is a different animal than playing, that’s for sure,” Church said.
The former Florida Everblades forward is in his first full season as the Phoenix RoadRunners’ coach. The 31-year-old Church, whose club will face Florida in two ECHL preseason games this weekend, is the second-youngest coach in the 23-team league, but he’s already proved he can win at this level.
After taking over as Phoenix’s coach midway through the 2007-08 campaign, he led the RoadRunners to their first ECHL playoff appearance. Phoenix was swept in four games by Las Vegas, but Church showed he’s not bad at coaching.
Three years ago, Church was one of Florida’s best players. Skating on the team’s top line, Church helped the Blades reach the 2004-05 Kelly Cup Finals, in which they fell to the Trenton Titans in six games.
“That was the first thing I thought about when I first walked (into Germain Arena),” Church said.
Church said Game 5 of that Trenton series still makes him cringe. Florida led 2-0 after two periods before Trenton ripped off five unanswered goals to grab a three games to two lead in the best-of-7 series.
“We just couldn’t stop their momentum,” said Church, his voice trailing off.
Church, who scored 54 points in 62 regular season games for Florida, said he still keeps in touch with many of his former teammates.
His Phoenix club will face one of those players tonight: Blades forward Ernie Hartlieb – who scored nine points in 15 playoff games for Florida in 2004-05.
“(Church) was always like a coach when he played. He was always teaching the younger guys,” Hartlieb said. “I’m happy to see him get an opportunity … but I hope we beat him.”
Phoenix, which has never played Florida, has one other former Everblade on its roster: forward Daniel Sisca.
“I hope I don’t get any boos,” said Sisca, who had a team-high 79 points in 71 games for the Blades in 2005-06. “No, I think it will be welcoming. I had a great stay in Florida and I got along with all the fans.”
Sisca said he loves playing for Church because he’s a great motivator.
Church is not a bad recruiter either.
This year, he successfully recruited forward Kimbi Daniels away from the ECHL’s Alaska Aces. Daniels, who plays with a protective blue eye shield, was a fan favorite in Alaska for the past eight seasons.
Church said recruiting is the toughest part about coaching.
“It never ends,” Church said. “You’re on the phone all day, every day.”
Church said he battled Florida coach Malcolm Cameron over players this summer.
“Oh yeah, we battle against everybody,” Church said.