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Over a span of 111 days, from Feb. 1, 2012 to May 23, 2012, the Florida Everblades went from a seven-game losing streak and their playoff hopes in doubt to winning their first and only (as of now) Kelly Cup.
"For a while there it looked like we weren't going to make the playoffs," said Greg Poss, the Everblades coach from 2010-16 who is back in Southwest Florida as a mental performance coach.
The pieces fell into place, though. And when Brandon MacLean finished off a 2-on-1 in overtime of Game 5 at then-Germain Arena, the Everblades — and Craig Brush, who brought the franchise into existence in 1998 — finished the season as the ECHL's best team.
"It's something that we'll never forget obviously, and the way that we won it with an overtime goal, that's storybook stuff," Brush said.
This year's Everblades are one step away from the Kelly Cup Finals. Florida is playing Newfoundland in the Eastern Conference Finals and is in that round for the third time in the last four seasons the playoffs have been played.
"I'd just like to see it happen again, and if it happens in overtime, so much the better," Brush said.
"They're having a good year and so maybe they can redo it and win one," said Mathieu Roy, the team captain back in 2011-12.
Not Looking Good
Just even making the playoffs seemed like a dream back on Feb. 1.
Defenseman Bobby Raymond remembered a players-only meeting when the season was going bad.
"We were talking about it in the dressing room, just the players after a game," Raymond said. "It was really a situation that if we played in the East Coast League, you want to play for the Everblades. We realize that in that situation how good we have it, how well they treat us, and that we knew we had the players at that time."
They did when goaltender John Muse rejoined the team from the AHL.
While Pat Nagle had been more than solid in goal, and he finished the season with a 2.87 goals-against average and a 20-14-3 record, Muse took it to another level. He went 16-6-3 with a 2.42 GAA and save percentage of 92.
"I think that was a bit of a factor," Raymond said.
This wasn't a team that contended or won the Brabham Cup for the best team in the ECHL. Florida entered the playoffs as a fifth seed, but the Blades were hot.
They were 21-20-4 on Feb. 1 after a 4-2 loss to Reading and finished the regular season 39-26-7, going 18-6-3 down the stretch.
"For about 12 weeks, everybody was playing their best hockey," Poss said. "Nobody cared who got the credit. nobody cared who scored the goals. Guys just wanted to win.
"Once we got that mentality going, it was just unstoppable."
"Everybody had their role," Roy said. "We all did what we had to do to win."
Florida swept Greenville, 3-0, in the first round, and dominated Elmira, 4-1, taking the last four games from the Jackals. After an injury to Muse in Game 2, Nagle stepped in for the final three games.
"They both stepped up their game big time," Roy said of the goalies.
After splitting the first two games in the conference finals against Kalamazoo, the Blades outscored the K-Wings, 17-4, to sweep the final three games and advance to the Kelly Cup Finals against the Las Vegas Wranglers.
Desert or Beach?
The Wranglers won Game 1 at home, but Florida bounced back emphatically with a 7-2 victory in Game 2. Then the series shifted to Southwest Florida. Las Vegas took a 3-2 lead into the third period, but Justin Shugg tied it to force overtime, and Matt Marquardt won it. Florida won Game 4, 3-1, for a 3-1 series lead, and Game 5 was back at Germain Arena.
Brush left a message for the team on the whiteboard in the locker room before the game.
"Vegas or South Beach," he wrote.
Some of the players were already in the locker room, and wondered exactly what it meant. Some were guessing that they got their choice if they won that night, that maybe flights already had been booked to Las Vegas since if there was going to be a Game 6 or 7, they would be played there. Brush heard the chatter from around the corner and came back in.
"You fools, I mean you're going back to Vegas to play or South Beach to celebrate," he said.
The Wranglers were ready to try to stave off elimination. Muse did everything he could.
"In the third period we were outplayed badly," Poss said. "John Muse stood on his head to keep us in it.
"We would've traveled on Thursday and played Friday and Saturday in Vegas. We played a very high pace, aggressive forechecking game. We were starting to get a little bit tired. Vegas was kind of getting more and more momentum. Thank God John Muse stood on his head."
The game went to overtime, and Poss had a simple message.
"All we need is one shot to end this thing," he said.
In his mind, it was one shot to win it, or possibly lose the series.
"I don't know if we would've won the whole thing," he said.
In overtime, Ryan Donald flipped the puck out of the zone, and it ended up a 2-on-1 with Matt Beca and MacLean, who ended it.
"It was just a fitting end to a real magical season," Poss said.
Roy was so tired when he headed to the bench, he was facing the boards instead of the ice.
"I didn't even see it go," Roy said. "I saw everyone throw their gloves in the air."
A kid named Zach Solow from Naples was 13, and sitting up in Section 111 when MacLean scored.
"It was nuts," Solow said. "Every goal is just (in that game), it means the world."
Now Solow is a defenseman for the Everblades trying to help the franchise to its second Cup.
"I know how special it is for the fans to be in this situation and now to live it as a player is honestly a dream come true," he said. "This team hasn't won a championship in a decade so it's time to give another down here to Southwest Florida."
Neither Vegas nor South Beach happened in 2012. It was leading into Memorial Day weekend, and wasn't possible to book enough hotel rooms to make South Beach happen.
"We ended up just staying around here," Raymond said with a chuckle. "We had a lot of fun around here anyway."
The Cup made its likely debut at the Lani Kai Resort on Fort Myers Beach.
"People kind of knew who we were at the Lani Kai at Fort Myers Beach," Roy said. "It was a great time. If we would've gone to Miami, they'd have been like 'Who are these guys and what's a Kelly Cup?'
"I remember you can kind of see the wood (on the bottom) kind of bubbling because of the water. She did have a good time that year, for sure."
Championship Bond Remains
The players from 2011-12 would love there to have been a reunion. There already has been to a degree, albeit more due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A couple of years ago, almost everyone involved got on a Zoom video call. They were from all over the world, and spoke, laughed, and maybe shared some adult beverages deep into the night, or possibly the morning depending on where they were.
"We probably had 98% of the players," Poss said. "We had guys all through Canada and Florida, all parts of the world. That's the beauty of Zoom — we can connect.
"I was on it for a couple of hours and finally I was like 'Guys, I've got to go to bed.'"
Virtually or in person, there's a bond that those players share that never goes away, no matter how long it's been since they've seen one another.
"It's just a different feeling when you see an old teammate that you won a championship with," Raymond said. "Running into them anywhere anytime would be the greatest thing to happen that day."
"It's like we never left each other," said Roy, who has gone on to win three championships with Sheffield in the United Kingdom's Elite Ice Hockey League and now plays for Glasgow. "It was one of the best teams I played for that's for sure."
Day with the Cup
Ten years ago, all of the Blades got their own day with the Cup, as tradition goes.
Roy was the captain and got it first, leaving with the Cup along with Marquardt in a truck.
"We had the Cup in the back with the seat belt on," Roy said. "She was safe all the way down."
There was a shrimp festival going on in Roy's hometown, Amos, Quebec, so there already was a party, and bringing the Cup just added to it.
"You always have one of your friends with you that you would trust with your life, right?" Roy said. "He took the Cup at the end of the night and he went out and danced. And he actually dropped the Cup and the bottom part flew off.
"I was the first one with the Cup and it already was in two pieces. I didn't know what to do. The band stopped and the party was done. Everybody went home after that."
But Roy had to come up with something, so they tried putting glue and tape on it to put it back together for Marquardt, who got it next.
"It looked good," Roy said.
The Cup didn't look like that when it came to Raymond for his day, though.
"It arrived in three pieces," said Raymond, who played in Frankfurt, Germany, this past season.
Leigh Salters, who lives in London, Ontario, had sent it to Raymond. Raymond had a friend in the plumbing business, so they reconstructed it with some putties and caulk. And then the celebration was on. For a while anyway.
"It didn't have long enough to cure," he said. "I'm sure one of my friends got a concussion from it. He was carrying it around my backyard hoisting when it split back again and ... straight to the head. He didn't seem fazed."
Raymond got it back together again, and sent it to Scott Pitt in Ottawa, hoping it at least arrived in one piece.
No matter how many pieces the Kelly Cup was in during its journey after the 2012 season, it was all of the pieces of the Everblades together that made that journey possible.
"It was the most fun year of hockey that I ever had," said Poss, who had coached previously to his Everblades stint, and went on to do so in Europe. "I coached professional for 27 years and 2012 was the most fun I ever had.
"I never had a group that everyone pulled on the same rope like that group. That will bond us our whole lives."
Brush and Poss -- and Solow too -- all look back to that Kelly Cup, but they are all looking forward to the possibility of another one. When the Blades coaching staff had to sit out due to COVID-19 protocols earlier this season, Poss stepped in to coach.
"For the couple of days that I was in the locker room and with the team, it is a great group of guys," Poss said. "I really believe and am rooting that this is the year that it will happen again. Brad Ralph has done an excellent job coaching the team.
"All that needs to happen is a little bit of luck."
The 2012 Florida Everblades
Matt Beca, Trevor Bruess, Ryan Donald, David Fischer, Rylan Galiardi, Brayden Irwin, Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll, Charles Landry, Matt Marquardt, Brandon MacLean, Ryan McGinnis, John Muse, Pat Nagle, Sebastien Piche, Scott Pitt, Kevin Quick, Mike Ratchuk, Bobby Raymond, Mathieu Roy, David Rutherford, Leigh Salters, Justin Shugg, Joe Sova, Brad Tapper (Assistant Coach) and Greg Poss (Head Coach).
Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at email@example.com. Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Florida Everblades look back 10 years at Kelly Cup win from 2012