The Florida Everblades have been in the ECHL since the 1998-1999 season when President and General Manager Craig Brush was reading a free edition of National Geographic that featured the Florida Everglades, and with that, he envisioned bringing a team to Southwest Florida, and that’s how the Florida Everblades were born. In their 25 years as an ECHL franchise, the Blades have put up a record of 1,066-536-62-118 and have only missed the playoffs once, which was in 2013-14, and have yet to have a losing season in the franchise’s history. The Everblades are only the third team in ECHL history to win back-to-back Kelly Cup Championships; no team has ever brought home the Kelly Cup three years in a row. When you look at the recent history of the Florida Everblades, there are a few key names that put a staple in the organization and have played a major part in the franchise’s success. When thinking about the history of the Blades, I don’t think of any of the particular teams; I look at the players who made it possible for the team to have the kind of success that they’ve had. The Everblades have also had three players who have had their number retired.
When you think of the Florida Everblades, you have to think of their Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations, Brad Ralph, who has been behind the Everblades bench since the 2016-17 season. In 491 games as the Blades’ Head Coach, Ralph has a record of 314-127-50 including leading the Everblades to back to back Kelly Cup Championships in 2022 and 2023. In the ECHL, all player contracts are for one year, and you rarely see a coach get a contract for more than two years, but the Everblades liked what they saw in Ralph and gave him a five-year extension back in July 2021, which was a huge boost of confidence after the Blades had the second best record in the ECHL but would be upset by the South Carolina Stingrays, who would make it all the way to the Kelly Cup Finals only to lose to the Fort Wayne Komets.
Captain Everblade AKA John McCarron
There is always one player you think of when you think of a franchise, and for the Florida Everblades, that man is John McCarron; the 6’3 center has played in 373 regular season games with the Everblades, putting up 152 goals and 212 assists for 364 points and spent four seasons as the Everblades Captain. The Michigan Native has added 27 goals and 52 assists for 79 points in 91 career Kelly Cup Playoff games. He ranks first in goals, assists, points, penalty minutes (729), and games, including regular season and Kelly Cup Playoff games. McCarron announced at the end of the 2021-22 season that he was taking a break from hockey but would return to the Everblades at the beginning of March, where he would play in 18 regular season games, putting up a goal and nine assists for 10 points but would break out during the Blades 2023 Kelly Cup Championship run where he’d put up six goals and 11 assists for 17 points in 22 Kelly Cup Playoff games.
Reggie Berg #10
Reggie Berg spent 283 games in the ECHL throughout his seven-year career, and 280 of them came with the Everblades, in which he put up 145 goals and 174 assists for 319 points; he would add 19 goals and 27 assists for 46 points in 53 career Kelly Cup Playoff Games. He spent his first season with the Blades as their captain, and then after taking a year off during the 2002-03 season, he would wear an “A” for the final four seasons. In his final season with the Everblades, he would put up 29 goals and 35 assists for 64 points in 58 games, which would be the best season he had in his career, and it’s kind of a surprise that he put up such great numbers since he played the entire season with a sports hernia that occurred in the 2006 Kelly Cup Playoffs. Berg was the face of the Everblades back in the day, kind of the way people look at John McCarron and everything he’s done for the franchise.
Ernie Hartlieb #9
Ernie Hartlieb spent 11 seasons with the Florida Everblades, where he put up 88 goals and 171 assists for 259 points in 359 games; he also spent three seasons with a letter on his chest, including the 2007-08 season when he wore the “C” for the Blades’. Hartlieb originally announced his retirement from the league after the 2009-10 season but would stay in the area. However, we all know how the ECHL is with guys getting called up all the time, and whenever the Blades needed an extra body, Hartleb would be there and would end up playing in 18 games between 2010 and 2014 despite his jersey number being retired in 2012. A couple years had passed, and it looked like Hartlieb had finally played in his final games for the Everblades, but he would make one more appearance on March 1st, 2019, in a game against the Orlando Solar Bears, where he would find the back of the net in which would be the final game of his playing career, at least for now, we never know when he might be back to tie up the skates again if the Everblades need an extra body. Hartlieb is still a community presence and a fan favorite among Everblade fans.
Tom Buckley was one of those players who would not only find ways to get on the score sheet, as he holds the team record for recording a point in 16 straight games, but he also wasn’t afraid to throw his body around. Buckley spent five seasons with the Everblades, putting up 103 goals and 207 assists for 310 points and adding 422 penalty minutes in 288 regular season games. He would add 17 goals and 23 assists for 40 points in 34 Kelly Cup Playoff Games. His 422 penalty minutes are currently fourth in the franchise’s history, and his 207 assists are second behind John McCarron. Buckley’s #14 would be retired by the Everblades in 2007.