ECHL: Icemen Showcase Skill For Record-Setting Crowd

The upper bowl was open at VyStar Memorial Arena last night, and it wasn’t for a concert or performance – it was for a hockey game. 11,378 people packed into Jacksonville’s downtown venue to watch the Jacksonville Icemen take on their always persistent nemesis, and Kelly Cup Contending, Florida Everblades. It was a memorable performance in front of a memorable crowd and quite a way to open the season against the defending cup champs.

Mix It Up:

The Icemen’s revamped line-up showcased a composed, poised-to-attack performance with a mix of new and veteran talent, providing the skills required to compete with a complete game. Recently reassigned blueliner Chris Jandric and rookie forward Riley Fiddler-Schultz got their first points in an Icemen sweater on Christopher Brown’s 1-0 powerplay tally 8:50 into the first period. Brown, coming off a career year in points last season, got the puck past Everblades goalie Cam Johnson to give the Icemen their first goal of the 2023-24 season.

The Icemen would strike fast in the middle frame. Brendan Harris, back with the Icemen for his 3rd season, cleaned up a rebound in the Everblades crease just 1:08 into the second period. Christopher Brown would get his second point of the game, being awarded an assist on the Harris goal. Newcomer Damien Giroux picked up the secondary assist on the play, giving him the first point of his Icemen career as well. Jacksonville would hold their 2-0 lead until just under nine minutes left to play in the second when Everblades forward Logan Lambdin registered the 2-1 tally. Lambin found the back of the net on a rebound chance coming from a Cole Moberg shot.

The game would remain 2-1 until the 10:42 mark of the third and final period when Brendan Harris registered his second goal of the season. Harris’ second of the night was the second powerplay goal for the Icemen and came off a beautifully timed centering pass from forward Christopher Brown. Cam Johnson would make a desperation diving save attempt, but Harris’ laser shot couldn’t be beat. The 3-1 goal would seal the deal for the Icemen, who outshot the Everblades 42-22.

The Rundown:

With two assists on the Harris goals, Christopher Brown registered three points on opening night. This is Brown’s fourth year in an Icemen sweater and comes after a year in which he racked up career highs in goals, assists, and points (24-40—64). To see his production already in midseason form is a welcome sight and a good sign of an Icemen offense firing on all cylinders. It’s also evident in Brendan Harris’ performance. Now in his third season with the team, Harris scored two of the Icemen’s three goals in Saturday’s home opener. He is also coming off a year in which he posted career bests. In 2022-23, Harris notched 15 goals and 34 assists for 49 points. When these two get going, it’s hard to slow them down, and as for them going right from the start? Well, that’s a really good thing.

It’s also a testament to leading by example. The two veteran forwards led the way for three new line-up additions to hit the scoresheet. Forwards Damien Giroux and Riley Fiddler-Schultz, alongside defenseman Chris Jandric, all nabbed their first point in an Icemen uniform. Rookie skater Fiddler-Schultz actually got his first two points, assisting on both Icemen powerplay goals. As with much of the other new additions, he was also active elsewhere on the ice, contributing in ways that don’t reflect on the stats sheet. RFS found himself involved in post-whistle antics on more than a few occasions. Blueliner Chris Jandric could be heard directing traffic in the defensive end and helping the Icemen stay paced. In the offensive zone, he was hemming players in, forcing turnovers, and aiding in applying sustained pressure.

A name that doesn’t appear on the scoresheet but should get some recognition is rookie skater Logan Cockerill. Like RFS, the younger Cockerill brother stayed involved after the play and opened up a lot of ice in between the whistles. His speed and mobility created solid looks offensively for the Icemen. The rookie made a lot of moves and drew a lot of attention, giving the rest of the Icemen forwards room to maneuver and take advantage of high-danger chances.

It was a solid performance in net from new Jacksonville goalie Matt Vernon. Vernon stopped 21 of 22 shots for a .955 save percentage to open the season. Vernon didn’t make the shutdown performance seem very hard. He looked smooth navigating the Icemen crease, not losing composure when under barrage of the Everblades. With the help of the Icemen defense, he didn’t allow too much to hang out in front of the net. Making some big-time stops, Vernon was able to take care of business.

Special teams took care of business as well, going two for five on the powerplay. Though they allowed Florida three chances on the man advantage, the Icemen did not yield a goal on the penalty kill, going three for three.

Saturday Night’s Alright:

Chris Jandric takes in the home opening crowd. Credit: Twitter/JaxIcemen

They did all of it in front of 11,378 amped-up fans. The crowd is the second largest in Icemen history, only beat by the November 14th game against the Atlanta Gladiators in 2019. That game saw a record attendance of 12,836. It was the largest opening night crowd in Icemen history and the third time the Icemen have cracked the 11,000 mark. When it comes to leading the league in attendance, well, needless to say, the Jacksonville Icemen are off to a hot start there, too.

The Icemen season continues on Friday, October 27th, when the team travels to take on the Orlando Solar Bears. The Icemen will then trek to Estero to square off with the Everblades on their home turf on October 28th. Action on home ice resumes November 2nd against the South Carolina Stingrays and is scheduled for a 10:30 a.m. start. The early day game is the team’s annual field trip game when schools from across the area pack in to get a glimpse at hockey firsthand.

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is a freelance hockey reporter covering the ECHL's Jacksonville Icemen for Inside The Rink and the Vancouver Canucks for The Canuck Way. His work has been featured on Hockey of Tomorrow and The Daily Faceoff, and can be found on Twitter/X @FromTheDrewLine.

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