By Len Bardsley
© 2005 The Times of Trenton
HAMILTON, N.J. – The Titans have played the role of wide-eyed tourist once during their playoff run to the Kelly Cup Finals.
They don’t expect it to happen again when they face the Florida Everblades in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Germain Arena.
Especially not Leon Hayward.
Hayward is familiar with playoff hockey in Florida. Last season the Titans forward was on the Reading Royals, who were eliminated by the Everblades in the fifth game of the Eastern Conference Finals.
This season, the Titans were not prepared for the intense environment of Game 1 of the National Conference Finals. The result was an embarrassing 6-0 loss to the Anchorage Aces.
Hayward is making sure his teammates are focused and prepared for some tough hockey Saturday. “They play hard,” said Hayward of the Everblades. “They are not a typical Southern team. They will come at you and check you hard. You know with guys like (Brad) Church around they will play hard.”
Hayward played with Church, a nine-year veteran, in Reading last season and with the Richmond Renegades two seasons ago.
According to Hayward the Everblades are a physical, offensive-minded club.
“They have some very good, older, savvy defensemen,” Hayward said. “That poses a problem for us. We will have to go at them.”
Though the Everblades have the talent to score goals in bunches, Hayward expects low-scoring battles, much like the series with the Aces which became a defensive battle after the two early blowouts.
“It is the finals,” Hayward said. “I think it will be tight checking. They will making safe plays. They have great leadership and great older guys.”
What impressed Hayward most during the series against the Everblades was the hockey atmosphere in Florida.
“It was a great environment,” he said. “They have great support and very knowledgeable fans. It is a great building to play in.”
It will be a far different feeling for Hayward Saturday from Anchorage during Game 1 of the National Conference Finals.
“It is more of a comfort level,” said Hayward. “In Alaska, the first time you skate around you are still adjusting to everything. I have been to (Florida) and played three games in playoff environment. I will be more comfortable in that situation and will be able to help out some of the guys.”
The Titans are starting to enjoy the challenge of playing in loud, packed arenas after winning two games at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage. They can expect another one in Germain Arena Saturday night.
“It is great for us,” said Titans coach Mike Haviland. “We have learned to play in it and win in it. You can use it to your advantage and the guys have. It is a fun environment to be around, the guys can use it for motivation, trying to silence the crowd.”