By Len Bardsley
© 2005 The Times of Trenton
TRENTON, N.J. – The Titans dispatched the ECHL’s “Pride of the North” in seven games in the National Conference Finals when they defeated the Anchorage Aces.
Now it is time for the “Pride of the South.”
The Titans face the Florida Everblades in the best-of-seven Kelly Cup Finals, starting with Game 1 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla.
The Everblades will be making their second straight appearance in the Kelly Cup Finals after losing to the Idaho Steelheads in five games last season. The Everblades have made the playoffs in all seven years of their existence and have led the league in attendance five seasons in a row. This season, the Everblades averaged 6,207 fans at their 7,080-seat capacity Germain Arena.
The Kelly Cup Finals will mark the first meeting between the Everblades and Titans, though there will be a few familiar faces for the Titans when the puck is dropped.
Brad Church played for the Reading Royals last season and was a teammate of Titans forward Leon Hayward with Reading and with Richmond two years ago, while Everblades goalie Tyler MacKay played with Wheeling last season and had a brief stint with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies this season.
MacKay has been the most intriguing player for the Everblades during their playoff run. The 25-year-old goalie struggled mightily in Atlantic City, losing all four games he started before being signed with the Everblades. MacKay promptly went 18-3-2 with the Everblades to finish the season.
He has had his highs and lows during the playoffs, and is on the top of his roller-coaster ride with two straight shutouts to close out the Charlotte Checkers in the American Conference Finals.
MacKay, however, has had some rough stops, temporarily losing his starting job to Craig Kowalsky.
Unlike the Titans, the Everblades feature several players who have had a taste of the NHL, starting with defenseman Shane Hnidy. He has played nearly 200 games in the NHL, the majority with the Ottawa Senators before joining the Everblades during the NHL lockout.
Church, Brad Fast, Kris Vernarsky and Damian Surma all enjoyed brief stints in the NHL.
It is players with impressive college resumes and not NHL experience who have been carrying the Everblades’ scoring during the playoffs. David Lundbohm, who was one of the top scorers for a stellar University of North Dakota team, is leading ECHL playoff scoring as a rookie with nine goals and 10 assists.
Steve Saviano, who put up gaudy scoring numbers at the University of New Hampshire, has supplied four goals and 11 assists as a rookie during the Everblades’ playoff run.
The Everblades have enjoyed home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, defeating the South Carolina Stingrays in four games, sweeping the Greenville Grrrowl in three and defeating the Checkers in six.
They have yet to face a team that finished the regular season with over 90 points, while the Titans have defeated three straight teams (Atlantic City, 92, Reading 93 and Alaska 98) with over 90 points.
The Everblades have only played one team with over 90 points in their franchise playoff history, losing to the Greenville Grrrowl in five games in the second round of the 2002 playoffs.