ECHL Playoff Push in the South: Florida Everblades

Photo by: Andrew Fielder for Inside the Rink

Amazing April? Aggressive April? All or Nothing, April? Regardless of what you want to call it, April is an exciting and frustrating time for teams in the ECHL as the season draws to a close and playoff positions are finalized. The League enters the month of April with between five and eight games remaining and only seven of 16 playoff spots locked up. The Central Division has three teams within two points of each other for the final two playoff spots. The Mountain Division has a six-point gap between fourth and fifth place, but there are still four teams with a solid chance of locking up one of the final two playoff spots. The North Division has every team in the hunt for a playoff spot, with only the top two positions locked up. Five of the seven teams in the division are within five points of each other. The South Division has two teams locked into playoff spots and two eliminated from the playoffs. The South Carolina Stingrays, Florida Everblades, and Orlando Solar Bears are battling for the last two spots. The Stingrays have the strongest shot, with 81 points and five games remaining. The Everblades and Solar Bears have 77 and 76 points, respectively, each having six more games in the season. 

The Everblades entered the new year in fifth place, but strong play, solid defense, goaltending, and an increase in scoring saw their rise in the standings to as high as third. The Everblades won seven of twelve games in January and February. They outscored their opponents by nine goals throughout the two months, averaging 3.25 goals for and 2.42 against during that stretch. March, however, has been a thorn in the side of the Everblades. They finished the month on a four-game losing streak and a 7-8 record. The Everblades had an issue finding the back of the net in March, scoring 2.87 goals per game while giving up 2.93 goals against. This reflects a 0.4 decrease in goals per game and a 0.5 goals against increase. 

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

The Everblades and Solar Bears have similar schedules in that they play three games against opponents with fewer wins and three against teams with more wins. The Everblades travel to Atlanta for two games against the Atlanta Gladiators, they have beaten them all five times this season. They then travel to Savannah to battle the Ghost Pirates, a team they’ve also had great success against this year, winning seven of eleven games. They then return home to host the Jacksonville Icemen, who they have been unable to compete with this season and were only successful in one out of ten games. The Everblades finish their season with a two-game homestand against the South Carolina Stingrays, the team in third place. The Solar Bears have three games against the Division-leading Greenville Swamp Rabbits, one against the Ghost Pirates, and their final two games against the Reading Royals, currently seventh place in the North Division. Neither team has a more favorable schedule based on their opponent’s win-loss record and head-to-head matchup. The Solar Bears have a slight advantage in that they play the Royals at the end of their season, whereas the Everblades play seventh-place Gladiators in the first week of April. The Everblades must stop their losing streak and string a series of wins together to distance themselves and the Solar Bears. 

GM and head coach Brad Ralph was highly active in creating a competitive roster. He made 27 player transactions since January 9 with 14 coming in March. These numbers are even more stark when the reassignments from and to the AHL are added. There were 46 individual player moves in 2024; March saw almost half of that with 22. Player moves are nothing new for the Everblades nor the League and are a fact of life for the players and coaches. At one point in early March, top defenseman Will Reilly was unsure who his defense partner would be for the game that night as Zach Uens had been called up to the Charlotte Checkers. The fluidity of the Everblades’ on-ice lineup posed significant challenges for the players as line chemistry, defensive assignments, and breakout plays were less crisp. 

Photo by: Cody Conine for Inside the Rink

The Everblades have grown accustomed to success in the playoffs, winning the previous two Kelly Cup Championships. They must, however, make the playoffs before they can attempt to win a third Kelly Cup. How can they turn their play around to win enough games to make the playoffs? The obvious answers to that question lie within so many of the keys to the game identified throughout the year:

  • Communicate on the ice, aggressive forechecking.
  • Slow down the opponent’s rush.
  • Control the neutral zone.
  • Be strong in front of both nets.

The team has the talent and strategy and understands the x’s and o’s of the game to control play. Instead, winning will take more than talented players, solid strategy, and strong goaltending. The players must return to the energy, drive, and attitude they displayed in January and February. As identified during numerous player interviews this season, the Everblades have a distinct winning culture within the locker room that creates a belief that the team will persevere. That culture now needs to inculcate the newer players and energize the veterans. 

Many people say that playoff hockey is the best hockey. These last two weeks of the ECHL season will be an extension of playoff hockey for many teams. Coach Ralph and captain Joe Pendenza will have the Everblades in playoff form, battling for that final playoff spot. I encourage everyone to attend one of the six remaining Everblades’ games, listen to a radio broadcast, or stream the game on FloHockey and experience the ride.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

The Everblades hit the road for their two-game series against the Atlanta Gladiators. Game one is on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at Gas South Arena in Duluth, Ga. 

James Slemp

I write for and photograph the Florida Everblades for ITR. I am a retiree that has turned my hobby of photography into a business. I currently live in Sarasota, Florida with my wife, Christy, but I'm originally from California. My previous career has taken me all over the US and the world and I definitely enjoy traveling. I've played hockey for over 30 years, learning as an adult, and love the game.

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