By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
It’s the hockey equivalent of the showdown at the OK Corral, and very few teams in the ECHL are better at it than the Florida Everblades.
Loaded with skill players, the Everblades are a perfect 5-0 in that fan-favorite manner used to decide the outcome of games still tied after 60 minutes of regulation and a five-minute, 4-on-4 overtime period.
To be successful in shootouts – which is when each team picks five shooters to go one-on-one with the opposing goaltender – you have to have a combination of reliable goaltending and talented players adept at converting penalty shots.
Florida’s perfect record in shootouts nearly came to an end on Feb. 17 in North Charleston, S.C., as the South Carolina Stingrays extended the shootout to 14 rounds. But rookie forward Derek Damon beat Daren Machesney for the second time to allow his team to pick up the extra point with the 5-4 win.
“It was actually a lot of fun because that was my first shootout,” said Damon. “I was anxious especially after I left college to be able to come and do the shootouts in pro hockey. But it was pretty nerve-wracking, especially my first attempt because I had to actually score the goal to keep the game going, so I was pretty nervous. After that I kind of settled down, and to help the team win was an exciting experience.”
The Everblades do a fun version of the shootout after some practices, the Juice Boy competition, where every player on the ice — and sometimes head coach Gerry Fleming and associate coach Jason Nobili — shoots until the last person not to score is left standing. He then has to wear the Juice Boy helmet until the next competition and serve Gatorade to everybody in the locker room.
Forward Brad Parsons, being a hockey traditionalist, was not in favor of shootouts deciding games for a long time because he, like others, felt it cheapened what happened on the ice for the previous 65 minutes, but now he’s changed his opinion.
“The game’s changed, and we needed to make the sport a little bit more exciting because of all the clutching and grabbing and lower scoring games,” Parsons said. “Now I love it. I love 4-on-4 overtime, I think that’s a great idea instead of 5-on-5, and then I love the shootout. There are a lot of skilled guys in hockey and that’s what we’re trying to show. No one wants to see a game end in a tie, that’s no fun.”
Every player has a signature move he uses in shootouts or on penalty shots, and some of them try to be even more creative when the game’s not on the line and the competition is in practice. But it truly is a chess game between the shooter and the goalie, with Florida’s Craig Kowalski and rookie David Shantz proving to be more than adequate foes.
Rookie forward Brad Zancanaro has converted three of his five shootout attempts this season, and his goal in that 14-rounder at South Carolina was as easy as they come. With Florida needing a goal to keep the shootout going, Machesney dove at Zancanaro, hoping to throw him off, and left his legs wide open for the shot.
“I have a couple of moves that I save just for the shootouts in games, but in practice I try to do different things to see if they work,” said Zancanaro, who had never been involved in a shootout that went that long. “Having K-Wol and Shantz back there also gives us a lot of confidence to try something different or be a little creative during the shootouts.”
The players all agree that not only has the shootout proven to be more exciting for the fans, but it has forced general managers from the NHL all the way down to the ECHL to rethink how they go about building their teams.
Because they were deep enough on their bench with skilled guys, the Everblades had no problem finding 10 shooters to step up in the win at South Carolina. After the 10th, the coaches are allowed to send guys out for a second time, which is why Damon got his chance.
“It’s very important because you look at Dallas (in the NHL) last year, they didn’t lose a shootout game and those games allowed them to get that second point and finish second in the Western Conference because of it,” Damon said. “The games are crucial and any point is so big, especially in our league and our division. We’re fighting for two points every night and there’s such a small margin of error.
“If you go on any kind of losing streak you can fall in the standings, and I think we have that confidence because we have a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net and do some special things offensively.”
Damon points to the Juice Boy competition as a definite benefit when it comes to shootouts, partly because they’re going against two quality goaltenders in Shantz and Kowalski. As for a special move, he said he has three or four he likes to go to, but not one in particular. Sort of like a gunslinger in the Old West bringing a few different holsters with him.