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Offense-minded Blades take crack at ECHL ‘Cup’

October 16, 2009
By RYAN RYLES, Special to the Breeze

Despite last season's early playoff exit, the Florida Everblades begin a new season on the road this weekend with three road games at the Toledo Walleye.

So impressive are the Everblades on paper that many hockey publications have them picked to win it all this time around.

All-Star coach Malcolm Cameron returns for his second season and has brought back the core group from last year's offensively dominant squad, plus some promising new talent on both sides of the puck.

"The talent we have this year certainly shows a lot of promise," said Cameron, "but until we actually put it against regular season competition it's hard to measure up at this point. I certainly feel pretty comfortable with the group we have here and can see a lot of promise in them."

Cameron has good reason to feel "comfortable." Returning on offense are Kevin Baker (57 goals, 45 points in 70 games), Earnie Hartlieb (21 goals, 33 assists, 70 games), Ryan Lang (16 goals, 26 assists, 44 games), Mattieu Roy (22 goals, 24 assists, 69 games), Milan Gajic (9 goals, 17 assists, 22 games), Jacob Micflikier (10 goals, 14 assists, 10 games), and power-play specialist Colin Nicholson, who finished with a team-high plus/minus of +21.

With so many familiar and worthy faces returning from last year's league leading, and record setting offensive unit, Cameron saw fit to make few changes to his scoring machine. One change, however, is the addition of second-year pro Rob Hennigar.

During the Blades' first preseason game last weekend, Hennigar centered a line with Baker and Micflikier that was dominate - notching a total of 11 points among the trio.

Defense is where Cameron made the most changes.

He looks to get more of what he wanted on this year's defense - big, two-way players who can handle the puck and create scoring opportunities.

Peter Metcalf, Matt Duffy, Brad Zanon, and A.J. Thelen all return joined by rookie Scott Hotham (6-foot-2, 200 pounds); second-year pro Elgin Reid (6-0, 190); and third-year pro Cleve Kinley (600, 200).

The addition of Hotham, Reid and Kinley marks the first time in recent memory the Blades' defensive pairings all top 6-feet and weigh in at and around the 200-pound mark.

In net is where Cameron said early in training camp that his No. 1 area of "focus for improvement" lies.

To that end, the Blades are bigger, and more experienced than ever before.

Mike Morrison, the presumed starter most nights, brings NHL experience and at 6-3, his large frame should make it hard for opposing shooters to find their way past him.

Also, Chris Beckford Tseu is a big netminder at 6-3. Blades fans may remember Beckford Tseu, who suited up for one game with the Blades in mid-February.

"This is a very good team," Morrison said. "We have some good older guys, and in the ECHL it's good to have some older guys that have played a lot of hockey, but are still in shape and can still contribute."

An added benefit to Morrison's presence is the experience he brings having played the most important position on the ice in high-pressure situations. It can be expected he will form a solid core of leadership with fellow 30-year-old players Baker, Hartlieb and Metcalf.

"The returning guys are not happy with the way it ended last year," said Baker. "So there is a little fire behind us, and the new guys know that Last year, we had a good team, we were playing well during the year and I think we just thought we were going to roll through (the playoffs). The mindset this year is that is just not going to happen. We are going to have to work harder at it."

The Blades need that "fire" all season if they hope to accomplish the ultimate goal of capturing the Kelly Cup.

With the South Carolina Stingrays, the defending Cup-holders and a division rival, the Blades can expect they won't easily let go of it.



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