Everblades' Strong Season Ends on Home Ice
The Estero-based Florida Everblades took on the reigning Kelly Cup champion Colorado Eagles over the weekend for the last game in the ECHL finals.
The chants of "Let's go Blades!" were nearly deafening Saturday night.
This is the thing about minor league hockey. Unlike the much-larger arenas of the NHL, the stands are typically packed with almost entirely fans of the home team.
Such was the case at Germain Arena – where the crowd of more than 7,700 spectators was an unpolluted sea of green.
And, soon, that crowd was on its feet, as Spencer Smallman got the first goal of the game and put the Everblades in the lead less than halfway into the first period.
The team carried that lead into the second, before the Colorado Eagles tied it up, 1-1, and a hush fell over the once-enthusiastic crowd.
But, then, it looked like the Blades had found a savior in forward Michael Kirkpatrick, whose go-ahead goal would've put Florida back on top.
“The goal judge said it went in; the ref didn’t think it went in," Everblades Coach Brad Ralph said. "Yeah, it was hard to tell.”
Ralph says the ECHL doesn’t use video replay to judge scoring, so this ref’s opinion became law on the ice.
And, the two teams were now tied heading into the third and final period, much to the crowd’s dismay.
They chanted, "Refs you suck!" into the next period.
Things settled back down once the Everblades took the lead five minutes into the third. It was 2-1 for a while, but the reigning Kelly Cup Champions weren’t going down without a fight. This is hockey after all.
In the last ten minutes of the game, the Eagles scored, not once but twice. In a last-ditch effort, the Everblades pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker, but their fate was already sealed.
The Colorado Eagles won the fifth Game 7 in league history and the Kelly Cup, once again, as an enraged crowd and bewildered home team looked on.
“It's like someone’s taken your Christmas presents, told you Santa Claus doesn't exist," Kyle Neuber said. "It’s just brutal.”
That’s how Blades forward Neuber described the feeling. He was the first to enter the tense and silent media room almost an hour after the game. The others were in their stalls in the locker room, sitting in full gear still, in complete disbelief.
As a reporter looped a mic through the collar of Neuber’s shirt, he joked toward the line of cameras, “I didn’t do it.”
By comparison, his teammate, Brett Bulmer, was visibly somber when he walked in.
“I honestly can’t believe it. I said that probably 50 times after game," Bulmer said. "Every single guy in there bought in. Every guy played their heart out.”
It’s that fact – the fact that every member of the team gave it their all – that gave Coach Ralph some peace of mind, despite the loss.
“Our guys did everything right," Ralph said. "What more can you ask for?”
Though the Everblades may not be the Kelly Cup champions this season, they did earn the Brabham Cup for the third time in team history. That cup goes to the ECHL team with the most points, which really means the most wins in regulation or overtime or, in other words, the best regular-season team in the league.
So, no second Kelly Cup for the Everblades this time. But, after a season like this, maybe it’s like Coach Ralph said: what more can you ask for?