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ECHL: Jacksonville Icemen Round Two Preview: Gator Season

Photo Credit: Jacksonville Icemen/ECHL

With ‘wabbit season’ over, the Icemen begin their second round hunt – gator season. After defeating the Greenville Swamp Rabbits in Round One of the 2022-2023 Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Jacksonville Icemen are set to face the Florida Everblades in Round Two. The fourth-seeded team entering the postseason, Florida, defeated the South Carolina Stingrays in Round One with a 4-2 series win. The 2022-23 postseason marks the second consecutive year the teams will meet in the playoffs. Last season the Everblades swept the Icemen 4-0 in the second round and went on to win the Kelly Cup.

The Stage Is Set:

Divisional rivalries have a long and historied place in sports. The Jacksonville Icemen and the Florida Everblades fall into that divisional rivalry category, having seen a lot of each other over the years. Dubbed “The Battle of Florida,” the teams met 12 times in the regular season this year, splitting the wins and losses evenly. Jacksonville won four times in regulation and registered one win a piece in overtime and the shootout. Both teams experienced better luck at home during the regular season. The Icemen went 4-1-0 against the Everblades on home ice, while the Everblades went 5-2-0 at home. Even more crucial is the goal margin that ensured those wins; of the 12 regular season meetings, nine games were decided by two or less goals. Entering Round Two as the higher-ranked seed, the Icemen will receive home-ice advantage with Games One, Two, Six, and Seven hosted in Jacksonville. As razor-thin margins decided the regular season series, the home team was often the victor. Playing on home ice could be a favorable factor in the second round of postseason play for the Icemen.

Round One Recap:

The similarities of each team’s first-round fight are striking. The first round saw both teams win their series with 4-2 records. The Everblades took on the number one-seeded South Carolina Stingrays, knocking off the first-place team in six games. The Icemen battled the third-seeded Greenville Swamp Rabbits, also clinching the series in Game Six. Both teams split their first two games of their respective first-round series, with the Icemen going 1-1 on home ice while the Everblades went 1-1 in South Carolina. Coincidentally, both teams also won Game Three but lost Game Four and then saw consecutive Game Five and Game Six victories.

Icemen Captain Christopher Brown / Credit: ECHL/Jacksonville Icemen

Through their first six games, the Icemen allowed 18 goals while scoring 20 goals themselves. The Everblades scored 17 goals in Round One, allowing 12 goals against. Also, neck-in-neck is the special teams’ play. So far this postseason, the Icemen’s powerplay is successful 19% of the time, while the Everblades see a 24% success rate on the man advantage. Florida also has a slight edge in killing penalties, with an 84% penalty kill average. The Icemen have averaged 80% while on the PK in the playoffs.

Ones To Watch:

Multiple Icemen players have collected seven points through the first round of play, but it’s been forward Craig Martin that’s had the hot hand. Through the first six games of playoff play, Martin has lit the lamp four times and contributed three assists to the offensive effort. Forward Ara Nazarian has come alive as of late. Posting four points in the final game of Round One, Nazarian has three goals and four assists this postseason. The cavalry of Icemen scorers has been complimented by Christopher Brown’s helping hand. His seven points through Round One are highlighted by six assists and one goal.

For the Florida Everblades, Joe Pendenza has been the main offensive contributor. His seven points have come in the form of three goals and four assists. Forward Logan Lambdin has also made his presence felt, adding three goals and three assists to Florida’s points total. Complimenting the Everblades’ offensive efforts, defenseman Stefan Leblanc has five points so far in the playoffs. Lambdin has assisted on five Everblades playoff goals.

Between The Pipes:

Icemen fans may see the return of goaltender Parker Gahagen in Round Two. Gahagen recently returned to Jacksonville after a stint with the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack. Gahagen did not see any game action during his recent stint with Hartford. The main man in the crease for the Icemen in Round One was goalie Charles Williams. Williams went 2-2 in Round One, averaging a .903 save percentage and a 2.89 goals-against average. Bolstering Williams in net for Round One was Olof Lindbom. Lindbom went 2-0 in Round One and boasted a 2.16 goals against average. He enters Round Two with a .917 save percentage.

For the Everblades, netminder Cam Johnson will be called on to man the crease. Johnson started all six games in Round One for Florida, going 4-2. He starts the second round of play sporting a .947 save percentage and 1.61 goals against average. 26-year-old rookie goalie Jaxon Castor will be Johnson’s backup in net. Castor has not seen any playing time during the playoffs but did make two appearances for the Everblades during the regular season. That pair of appearances for Castor resulted in a .912 save percentage and 2.07 goals against average.

Rivalry Rematch:

It is more than fair to say these teams have an overwhelming amount of history between them. In addition to seeing a lot of one another during the regular season, the teams have a history of meeting in postseason play. In 2019, the Everblades took the South Division semifinals series 4-2 over the Icemen. Last season, the Icemen fell victim to a 4-0 sweep in the South Division finals series. Consequently, it may be fair to say the Icemen have a personal vendetta for playoff revenge. After sweeping the Icemen in last year’s final divisional round, the Everblades went on to beat the Toledo Walleye for the Kelly Cup.

Much like their Round One opponent, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, on paper, the Icemen have almost identical stats to their Round Two foes. That speaks more to the ECHL’s tightly competitive South Division than it does for either team’s individual play. Regardless of similarities or differences, the goal remains the same: bring home the Kelly Cup. To do it, the Icemen must find ways to tighten up special teams’ play and hammer Cam Johnson with shots in the crease. The Icemen cannot afford to be lenient on home ice and cannot afford many mistakes on the road. If the regular season games between these two teams prove anything, it’s that the margin of error is slim to none, and costly mistakes can lead to games getting out of hand quickly. Shutting down Florida’s offense and suffocating them on defense will be the keys to finding wins in Round Two. As has been demonstrated, anything can happen in playoff hockey. Jacksonville will need to be in charge of ensuring everything plays in their favor.

Puck drop for Game One is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville on Saturday, May 6. A full schedule of Round Two action can be found below.

Game 2 – Sunday, May 7 at 5 pm ET at Jacksonville
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 10 at 7:30 pm ET at Florida
Game 4 – Friday, May 12 at 7:30 pm ET at Florida
Game 5 – Saturday, May 13 at 7 pm ET at Florida (If Necessary)
Game 6 – Monday, May 15 at 7 pm ET at Jacksonville (If Necessary)
Game 7 – Tuesday, May 16 at 7 pm ET at Jacksonville (If Necessary)

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is a sports media content creator and freelance journalist covering the Jacksonville Icemen of the ECHL. He can be found on twitter @fromthedrewline.

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