By Tom Hanson
Naples Daily News
Copyright © 2005
ESTERO, Fla. – After practice Tuesday morning, Florida Everblades head coach Gerry Fleming shut his office door and searched for a spark before Game 5 of the American Conference Finals.
He found it by writing center Brent McDonald into the starting lineup.
The five-year veteran, making his first appearance in five weeks after fracturing his left hand, didn’t score a point. But his presence boosted the Everblades to a convincing 5-0 over the Charlotte Checkers at Germain Arena.
“Sometimes there are important elements of a game that don’t show up in the stat box, and Brent definitely added a lot of energy to our lineup tonight,” Fleming said. “When you’ve been out of the lineup as long as he had, he wanted to prove that he belonged out there, and he did.”
McDonald said he was nervous and excited about the start. With his roommate, Keith Anderson, the odd man out of the lineup, McDonald also had something extra to prove.
To make room for McDonald, who was activated from the 30-day disabled list, Fleming sat Anderson and put winger Brandon Coalter, who had been inactive for the first four games of the series, on the seven-day disabled list with a thumb injury.
McDonald said taking the place of his best friend was tough but not an awkward situation.
“We talked about it,” McDonald said, “and it wasn’t an awkward talk. I felt bad, he’s my best friend and my roommate, but I went out there and played even harder. I was out there playing for both of us.”
McDonald set the tone by winning the opening faceoff. He’d win every draw he took part in the game.
Before the injury, McDonald proved to be one of the Everblades’ most potent offensive players. During the regular season, the 25-year-old recorded 45 points with 20 goals and 26 assists. Last year during Florida’s Kelly Cup run, he had eight points with seven assists.
He admitted that he and his new line need time to gel.
“My hand felt fine,” he said. “I just tried to take and slow and get the rust off. It was a little bit of an adjustment playing with Hartlieb and Vernarsky for the first time, but I’m sure as time goes on here we’re going to get hard.”
To create the new line, Vernarsky made the switch from center to left wing. Hartlieb said he felt McDonald’s excitement and expects even more good things from the change.
Reggie Berg agreed that McDonald’s energy spread to the rest of the team.
“He’s a veteran who’s been here in important Game 5s before,” Berg said, “and you need that veteran attitude this time of year.”
After seeing, McDonald in practice, everyone sensed a lineup change was inevitable. The tension in the locker room as Fleming sat behind his closed door proved it. The door opened and closed four times before after thing was settled.
Even though dropping Anderson, who has struggled in the Charlotte series, scoring only one point with five shots on goal, looked like an easy decision, Fleming said it wasn’t.
But he had no choice with McDonald healthy.
“B-Mac has been an important part of this team all season and he was ready to go,” Fleming said. “The hard part was making Anderson inactive. But this time of the year you have to what you can to find that right combination.”