Ask a lot of folks, and they’ll tell you the Jacksonville Icemen shouldn’t have made it here. At the puck drop of game four, fans league-wide had already written the Icemen off. Jacksonville was on the brink of elimination in Estero Friday evening, down three games in the second round. With a 4-3 overtime win, the Icemen gave themselves another chance at survival. Saturday, the same story; a win to keep the dream alive or go home early. The Icemen could not be shaken. Winning in a resounding 6-3 fashion, the Icemen found success in game five to force the series back to Jacksonville. Tonight’s game six, however, was a different story for the Jacksonville Icemen. Not foregoing a valiant effort, the Jacksonville Icemen would once again fall victim to the Florida Everblades in the second round of the playoffs.
VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena was electric at puck drop of tonight’s game six. With every game from game four on being a win-or-go-home situation, the Icemen took to the ice to attempt to force a game seven. The first frame of hockey was an even keeled period, with both teams pushing a more dump-and-chase style of play. Things would begin to open up around seven minutes into period one, with the Icemen finding ways to push down into the offensive end. Keeping the puck down below the goaline, the Icemen successfully started the offensive push from deep within the offensive zone and moved the puck out tight across the crease. Their offensive efforts would not be rewarded. Instead, scoring the only goal of the first period of hockey was Everblades forward Tyler Irvine. Irvine’s goal came at 9:13 and was assisted by Zach Uens and Cam Darcy.
Down 1-0 at the start of the second period, the Icemen sought to battle back and close the gap. Things would go less than according to plan when, 1:51 into the second period, Cole Moberg scored the second Everblades goal of the evening. Physicality would begin to become the theme of the middle frame, with Icemen forward Cristiano DiGiacinto, in particular, making each hit count. The Icemen attempted to adjust the tempo of the game by slowing things down at moments. With the urgency of being down two goals, puck control was an issue for the Icemen in the second period. Forced passes into full coverage resulted in turnovers and gave the Everblades space to work. The Icemen struggled to find success shutting down the Everblades’ transition game, with the Everblades moving the puck laterally to open up space in the neutral zone. It looked as if the Everblades would exit the second period with a two-goal lead until Ara Nazarian reminded everyone the Icemen would not be put away that easy. Scoring from a quick shot from the side of the crease, Nazarian put the Icemen on the board with 1:04 left to play in the second. Nazarian’s second-period goal was his fourth of the postseason, assisted by Tim Theocharidis and Christopher Brown.
With just one period left to play, the Icemen’s season was left to be decided in just twenty minutes. Things were four a side to start the last period of hockey. Down 2-1, the Icemen did a great job controlling the puck and finding an offensive rhythm on the four-on-four powerplay. The Everblades found success moving the puck quickly down low in their offensive zone and being able to open up space from the point. At times hemming the Icemen into their own end, the Everblades would end up outshooting the Icemen 28-19 on the evening. Getting those pucks to the net paid off for the Everblades, with a 3-1 goal coming from Tyler Irvine with 8:41 left to play. That’s when the third-period implosion would occur for the Icemen. Feeling the goal deficit and the weight of the season riding on the last period of hockey, the Everblades would begin to control the pace of the game surgically. Getting pucks in deep and pushing the Icemen down into their defensive end, the Everblades would find it easy to keep the puck in their possession. With a break coming in the offensive zone, Derek Lodermeier would try to keep hope alive, scoring the 3-2 goal with 1:28 left to play. Down one goal at the wire, the Icemen opted for the empty net. The Everblades ensured they would ruin the house party, netting two goals with the goalie pulled. The evening’s fourth and fifth Everblades goals would come from Levko Koper and Tyler Irvine.
Icemen fans, it’s hard to write about a loss, especially when the team has the gumption to take on a three-game deficit and give themselves a shot at pulling off the (dang near) impossible reverse sweep. Close, but no cigar. This is the second consecutive year the Icemen have been eliminated at the hands of their in-state rival in the division finals. You can’t knock this team for their heart, though.
Issues that plagued the Icemen since the start of the second-round series were prevalent in game six. At times being too hesitant to put the puck on net resulted in missed scoring opportunities. The play through the neutral zone was an area the Icemen had improved on in previous games, but they often had trouble moving the puck through the zone or gaining entry into the offensive end of the ice. Puck control was hit or miss, with passes sometimes being forced to players unable to take them cleanly. And the turnovers. Let’s not get started on the turnovers. Tyler Irvine’s first goal of the game for the Blades came after a big turnover at the Icemen blueline, with an unchecked Irvine picking the exit pass off cleanly and taking it to the net. Often those turnovers were a byproduct of a team in a hurry. In actuality, the Icemen took moments to settle the game and slow the pace down when the team found they were most effective moving the puck. There are definitely adjustments to be made in the offseason, but it’s nothing the Icemen can’t fix. At the end of the day, you still can’t knock this team for their heart.