By Andy Kent
Copyright © 2005 Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – One full hour of spinning their wheels Tuesday morning left the Florida Everblades a little tired but no less excited to take the next step toward an ECHL championship.
Only the Trenton Titans stand in their way.
The Titans eliminated the Alaska Aces in Anchorage late Monday night with a 2-0 victory in Game 7 of the National Conference Finals. They travel to Southwest Florida this weekend to open the best-of-seven Kelly Cup Finals. Games 1 and 2 are Saturday and Sunday at Germain Arena.
After being forced to wait until the wee hours of Tuesday to find out who their opponent will be, the Everblades were spared any on-ice work by head coach Gerry Fleming. Instead, the players were put through a spinning class on the exercise bicycles in the team’s weight room.
“We mixed it up a little bit during the week here, gave them a couple of days off,” Fleming said Tuesday. “We had a good practice yesterday. Today we changed pace a little bit with a spin class and a workout and we’ll be on the ice for the next three days. I think guys are anxious to get going and start playing. They’re focused and ready to go.”
Besides not having to hop on a bus to Miami in the morning and then board a flight that eventually would have taken them across the continent to Alaska, the other benefit the Everblades received by Trenton winning was extra time to prepare for an unfamiliar opponent.
An Aces victory would have forced Florida to play Game 1 tonight in Anchorage virtually blind, with no clue of who the Aces are or how they played other than what little film they could have watched on the flight. They wound up with a four-day window to break down the Titans.
“Yesterday at this time we had so many unanswered questions really, so it was nice take up this morning and know what’s going on,” said Everblades veteran forward Brad Church. “It’s really nice to be starting at home. We know it’s going to be crazy and a huge weekend for us down here and I hope everybody is as excited as we are.”
Church, who played for the Reading Royals last year, and goaltender Tyler MacKay are the only two Florida players to have seen the Titans last year when they both played in what was then the Eastern Conference’s Northern Division.
MacKay, who played for the Wheeling Nailers in 2003-04, is the only one to have seen them this year during his brief stint with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies in the North Division.
Of the three teams the Everblades have faced in the playoffs to this point, Church’s and MacKay’s descriptions of Trenton most closely resemble the Charlotte Checkers, their American Conference Finals opponent that took the series to six games.
“I think they’re a more well- rounded team than the ones we have faced up to now and they have all the elements in place to get this far,” said MacKay, who saw a lot of Trenton as the Nailers goalie last year. “They’ve got a couple of guys that are very big and they have a very strong power play. Our defensemen are going to have clear out the traffic in front and let me see the puck when they have the man advantage.”
With three days still left before the series begins, it will take even more discipline for the players to block out the distractions and hype that always comes with a championship round in any sport.
But judging by how some of the players looked Tuesday and how they approached the night before, they’re not having a problem staying loose.
“Some of us stayed up, me, Chris Lee, (Steve) Saviano and (Craig) Kowalski, and Kowalski was playing poker online while listening to the (Titans-Aces) game,” said forward Damian Surma, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Florida’s 1-0 series-clinching victory in Game 6 at Charlotte, N.C. “The rest of us were playing crib and watching television. We had a little pow wow.”