ESTERO, Fla. – The Florida Everblades had a different look as they hosted the South Division-leading Greenville Swamp Rabbits Friday night at Hertz Arena. Injuries and roster moves forced coach Brad Ralph to adjust his lineup, and before the game, he designated a team captain for the first time this season, placing the “C” on Joe Pendenza. The team swapped their green sweaters for dark blue sweaters patterned after their NHL affiliate, Florida Panthers. The game required extended play to determine a winner as the Swamp Rabbits edged out the Everblades 4-3 in a shootout.
With unanimous support from the players, Coach Ralph awarded Forward Joe Pendenza the captaincy before Friday’s game. Pendenza has been an assistant captain since 2021 and is now the 20th player to wear the “C” in franchise history. Joining him as assistant captains are forwards Oliver Chau and Logan Lambdin, who will both wear the “A” during home games. Forward Bobo Carpenter will continue to wear the “A” during road games, along with defenseman Riese Zmolek. There were physical changes to the lineup and the new roles for Pendenza and his assistants. Defenseman Evan Nause was reassigned to the Everblades by the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. Forwards Cam Darcy and Zach Tsekos were activated from injured reserve, and Cam Hausinger was placed on injured reserve. All-Star defenseman Nathan Staios and forward Chris Ordoobadi were both placed on the reserve roster. Forward Weiland Parris was released from his contract. Darcy, Nause, and Tsekos all skated in the lineup against the Swamp Rabbits.
The visiting Greenville Swamp Rabbits held a 12-point lead over the Everblades, with a division-best 8-2 record over their previous ten games. The Everblades had a five-game winning streak and a 7-2-1 record over their past ten games. The Everblades were tied for third with the Jacksonville Icemen after the Orlando Solar Bears broke the three-way tie Thursday night with the shootout loss, which gave them one point and sole possession of second place in the South Division. The Swamp Rabbits are 5-2-1 against the Everblades this season, and this two-game series in Estero, Fla, will be the last time these two teams play each other this season. Jake Maurice identified his three keys of the game during his Pregame Show as:
- be ready for a quick start since the Swamp Rabbits’ last game was Sunday, and they were well-rested,
- strong defensive play,
- and feed off the crowd’s energy.
The Everblades have been playing some of their best hockey this season during their current five-game winning streak, but those games were against teams below them in the standings. The Everblades will need a complete effort by every player for them to secure a victory against the Swamp Rabbits. Cam Johnson started in net for the Everblades, and Ryan Bednard for the Swamp Rabbits.
Both teams played a tight game in the first period, and neither could secure extended pressure in the offensive zone. Everblades forward Oliver Chau received a tripping penalty at 4:20, but the Swamp Rabbits could not beat Cam Johnson on five quality shots with the man advantage. Swamp Rabbits forward Jake Smith (11) scored the game’s first goal at 16:16 with assists from Joe Leahy and Nick Prkusic. Smith played 45 games for the Everblades last season before being claimed off waivers by the Tulsa Oilers on April 3, 2023, just 16 days before the start of the playoffs. The Everblades did go on the powerplay at 16:45 when Lord-Anthony Grissom was given two minutes for hooking. The Everblades managed one quality shot with the man advantage, and the score ended 1-0 Swamp Rabbits at the end of the first. The first period saw 28 shots between the teams, with the Swamp Rabbits outshooting the Everblades 16-12.
Newly named assistant captain Logan Lambdin (8) tied the game at 1-1 44 seconds into the second period. Oliver Chau and Riese Zmolek assisted in the goal. Captain Joe Pendenza (13) added to his team lead in points with a goal 82 seconds later, giving the Everblades a 2-1 lead. Neither team could add to their score, and the period ended 2-1 Everblades. The Swamp Rabbits outshot the Everblades again 14-9.
The third period started much as the second period ended; both teams generated quality shots but couldn’t beat the opposing goalie. Defenseman Zach Uens sent the Swamp Rabbits on the powerplay at 6:15 with his two-minute penalty for holding. The Swamp Rabbits couldn’t score with the man advantage, but they received a penalty shot 43 seconds after returning to five-on-five play. Forward Anthony Beauchamp (7) scored on the penalty shot to tie the game 2-2. Captain Joe Pendenza (14) scored his second goal of the game 36 seconds later to give the Everblades the lead again. They would hold that lead and weather the Swamp Rabbits’ offensive pressure until forward Brannon McManus scored his seventh goal of the season with three seconds left in the game. The third period ended with the teams tied at 3-3 and the Swamp Rabbits outshooting the Everblades 14-11.
The Everblades carried most of the play in the seven-minute overtime period, outshooting the Swamp Rabbits 5-3. With neither team earning the extra point and winning overtime, the teams moved to a shootout. The Swamp Rabbits started the shootout first, and Cam Johnson stopped Carter Souch’s attempt. Everblades forward Sean Josling had his attempt blocked. Both Jake Smith and Logan Lambdin were unsuccessful in their attempts. Brannon McManus would score on his attempt in the third round, and Bobo Carpenter’s attempt hit the goalie; the Swamp Rabbits took the extra point and the win.
The shootout loss by the Everblades was a heartbreaker as they were 14-1 when leading after the second period this season. The one point gives the Everblades 46 on the season and moves them into a three-way tie for third with the Orlando Solar Bears and South Carolina Stingrays. The sting from this loss should give the Everblades energy for their next game on Saturday night against the Swamp Rabbits. Anything less than a win in that game could see the Everblades fall back out of a playoff spot and could seriously slow the momentum they’ve created over the last ten games.
Saturday’s game is Affiliation Night, as the Everblades celebrate their affiliation with the Florida Panthers. The specialty jerseys they wore for Friday night’s game will be auctioned off online, with proceeds going to the Animal Refuge Center. Game time is 7 p.m. at Hertz Arena.