By Craig Handel
It literally has been a rough road that Yannick Tifu has traveled in his return to Southwest Florida.
Before joining the Florida Everblades on Monday for their trip to Gwinnett, Ga., in the first round of the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs, Tifu and Brad Herauf finished the season for the Albany (N.Y.) River Rats of the American Hockey League.
It was tough enough that the River Rats (33-40-3-4) didn’t make the playoffs. A big reason they didn’t was a bus crash Feb. 19 that injured several of their players.
So as Tifu talked about what impact he’ll have on the Everblades, who have a 2-0 lead in the first-round series, he has the perspective that coach Malcolm Cameron seeks.
“The biggest thing is trying to get in, get on the boat,” Tifu, a center, said. “I want to jump in the boat and follow the leaders.
“The guys are mentally into it. They won eight in a row to end the regular season, then two more in the playoffs. This team is built to win a championship.”
Tifu missed two weeks of action after suffering a lower-body injury when Albany’s team bus hit a guard rail, then rolled over at about 3:30 a.m. in Becket, Mass.
The team was returning from a game in Lowell, Mass. Four players were hospitalized, including defenseman Jonathan Paiement, who is also on the Everblades’ playoff roster.
Herauf, a left wing, was out with an injury and was not on the team bus.
“Good thing I was sleeping because I don’t really remember much,” Tifu said. “Last thing I remember was doing a 360 and kicking a guy in front of me and laying on the roof as the bus was on its side.
“I was kind of scared.”
Tifu had two goals and 11 assists in 26 games for Albany. Herauf had a goal and two assists in 31 games. He injured his shoulder while in a late-season fight but said he’s fine now.
While making the flight back to Fort Myers, the forwards talked about contributing while realizing that they may not play every night during the playoffs. With defenseman Matt Duffy coming from the AHL’s Rochester (N.Y.) Americans, and forward Ryan Lang cleared to play, Cameron has 22 players for 18 spots.
“Practices have been very intense,” the coach said. “Guys are competing for a jersey. Check your ego at the door. It’s all about what’s best for the team.”
Herauf understands. He said this team is deeper and more talented than last season’s Florida team.
“It may be a case where you’re sitting in the stands one night, playing the next,” Herauf said. “It’s not going to be the same 18 guys the next two months. It’s not a sprint but a marathon. You have to be patient. You don’t want to disrupt things. I want to play as much as anybody but I won’t let self pride get in the way of a team goal.”
“You can’t pout if you’re not in the lineup,” he said. “You’re trying to get a ring.”