ECHL Playoffs: Florida Everblades vs. Jacksonville Icemen Game 4 | 04/26/2024

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

 Estero, Fla.- Matt Vernon continued to play incredible in net on Friday night. His 31 saves on 31 shots moved his save percentage for the four-game series to 0.959, giving him his second shutout. His performance was supported by defensive pairings and a scheme that clogged the shooting lanes, blocked shots and passes, and prevented the Everblades from capitalizing on rebounds. Five goals by five different Icemen secured the win and the 3-1 lead in the first round.

Both teams started their number one goaltenders in net for the fourth straight game: Cam Johnson for the Everblades and Matt Vernon for the Icemen. Icemen head coach Nick Luukko made one change to his lineup for game four, inserting defenseman Connor Russell for defenseman Julian Kislin. Everblades head coach Brad Ralph made one adjustment to his lineup, the first of the series, by inserting newcomer forward Reed Lebster for forward Todd Skirving. Lebster was a recent signee from Michigan State University. The Everblades looked to score their first powerplay goal in seven chances, while the Icemen looked to continue their scoring success with the man advantage, scoring four times on eleven powerplay opportunities. 6,180 fans crowded the Hertz Arena for Friday night’s game. 

Period one saw the Everblades jump out with a lot of energy and momentum. Jesse Lansdell got the crowd into the game when he leveled a massive hit on the first shift of the game. His physical play got the team and crowd going as the Everblades pressed for the game’s first goal, something they hadn’t had in the series so far. The Everblades carried the play in the first period, outshooting the Icemen 9-6 but failing to get a puck past Matt Vernon.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

The Everblades jumped out again in the second period and continued the offensive pressure on the Icemen. Mattheson Iacopelli would steal the puck and skate one-on-one against Cam Johnson at 7:08. His shot through the five-hole would be the game’s first goal and his first goal of the series. The Icemen scored just over two minutes later when Damien Giroux (2) was left alone on the back post for an easy tap-in from Garret Cockerill and Craig Martin. Penalties would plague the Everblades in game four, much like in the series so far, as Jordan Sambrook’s high-sticking penalty at 9:36 would lead to a powerplay goal by Oliver Nadeau. Oliver’s shot was outside the right faceoff dot, and it managed to find a way through Cam Johnson’s pads for his second series goal. Logan Cockerill and Brandon Fortunato assisted on the goal. The period would end with four penalties, two for each team, as the physical play increased.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

The Everblades, again, jumped out to an aggressive start in the third period, but, like in the first two periods, they were unsuccessful in beating Matt Vernon for a goal. Icemen Christopher Brown sniped his second goal of the playoffs when he beat Cam Johnson over his left shoulder and under the crossbar, giving the Icemen a 4-0 lead. Everblades defenseman Riese Zmolek received a ten-minute misconduct penalty at 16:27 and was escorted off the ice. Everblades forward Sean Josling received a ten-minute misconduct penalty at 18.16, and Cam Darcy for the Everblades received a ten-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at 19:06. The Icemen would record an empty net goal at 16:20 when Ryan Scarfo scored his first goal of the series from the neutral zone. 

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

The Everblades’ physical play did little to slow down the Icemen’s offense, nor was it effective in breaking through the defensive wall. The Everblades special teams continue to be a disappointment as they haven’t scored in ten opportunities, while the penalty kill has given up five goals in 20 short-handed opportunities. Sean Josling and Matt Wedman continue to lead the Everblades in scoring with three points each. Icemen Brandon Fortunato, with six points, and Christopher Brown and Derek Lodermeier are tied for second with five points. Lodermeier was kept off the scoresheet for the first time in the series, having gone four goals and an assist in the first three games.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

After the game, I sat down with head coach and GM Brad Ralph, forward Jesse Lansdell of the Florida Everblades, and defenseman Brandon Fortunato of the Jacksonville Icemen.

NBC 2: What happened in the second period of the game was the defining factor of the game because they scored three.

Coach Brad Ralph: We played well through the first half of the game. Much like all season, we haven’t capitalized on our opportunities, and we’ve struggled to score goals. When we turned the puck over for a breakaway, that ended in the game’s first goal. Cam let in one that he’d like back, and we got a penalty right afterward. It was an unfortunate five minutes of play where we lacked discipline. To their credit, they play a consistent game. I’m confident our group can come back, but it will be challenging.

NBC 2: What needs to happen to come back and win three straight?

BR: The number one goal is to win the next game. You learn a lot about yourself and what needs to happen. If we believe we can do it, then we can. We have to maintain our focus and effort for a full 60 minutes.

NBC 2: Anything you’ll change schematically regarding tomorrow’s must-win?

BR: We will look to make changes because we’re not scoring goals. It might be lineup changes or offensive strategies.

Inside the Rink: During the season, the team was excellent on special teams, especially penalty kill; what’s been the difference in this series on special teams?

BR: We have a limited number of opportunities, and that’s frustrating to our guys. In the playoffs, there is tighter checking, so it’s difficult to score goals. Our penalty kill hasn’t gotten it done.

Inside the Rink: You delivered a massive hit on tonight’s first shift. Was being a more physical part of the game plan or something you seized the opportunity on?

Jesse Lansdell: It’s not necessarily part of the game plan, but it’s something I try to bring to the team each game. I’m trying to get the guys going.

ITR: Is that something you’re used to doing coming out of college?

JL: Yes, it’s been a part of my game for as long as I can remember. It’s a lot of reason why I’ve made teams in the past, and it’s going to be a reason I play going forward.

ITR: The Icemen seemed to be in every shooting lane and blocked many shots tonight; how do you find room out there?

JL: They’re doing a great job getting in front of our shots. We need to move them laterally and compete harder.

ITR: Matt Vernon played well tonight, and in the series, how do you get pucks past him?

JL: We must get in his eyes and make it hard on him. We need to go to those dirty areas, battle with their defense, and make his job as hard as possible.

ITR: Special teams, especially the penalty kill, were highlights in the regular season but less effective in this series. What do you need to do to get those teams back on track?

JL: It comes down to executing. Our guys are out there for a reason, and they know how to get the job done. Maybe they need a little confidence by scoring one on the powerplay and some kills on the penalty kill.

ITR: Excluding this series so far, how has it been for you coming out of the University of Notre Dame and, more recently, the University of Nebraska-Omaha and playing a few games before jumping into the playoffs with the Everblades?

JL: It’s been an excellent opportunity to get a few games under my belt in the regular season, and the playoffs have been a different beast. It’s been fun so far.

Inside the Rink: You have had tremendous success against the Everblades this season and in this series. What do you attribute that to?

Brandon Fortunato: It’s our culture with our team. We’re a family in the room with the coaching staff, our players, and the rest of our staff. We’re all on the same page and we’re pulling in the same direction.

ITR: The Everblades seemed to jump out early in the first period and carry the play. What did you do to weather the storm and get your game going?

BF: We scored the first goal in every game this series, so I don’t think we weather a storm. Our starts have been good, with the first goal in every game.\

ITR: What do you have to say about Matt Vernon’s play?

BF: We’re not surprised; we believe in him. He’s been a great goalie all season. What he’s doing now is what he’s done all season. 

ITR: I was impressed with your team’s ability to get in the shooting lanes, block shots, and clean up the rebounds. Is that something you’ve been able to do all season, or is this just playoff hockey?

BF: I think it’s just playoff hockey. We have a great culture, and guys are willing to sacrifice for each other. Our culture is elite, and we want to do anything for each other.

ITR: What would it mean to knock out the Everblades, the two-time Kelly Cup Champion?

BF: That fourth win against the will be the toughest. It would be nice, but our mission is to win a Cup, and they’re the first step.

Thanks to Everblades head coach Brad Ralph forward Jesse Lansdell, and Icemen defenseman Brandon Fortunato for taking the time to answer some questions.

Game five is at Hertz Arena on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. The Icemen can move on to the second round against the series winner between the Greenville Swamp Rabbits and the Orlando Solar Bears, and a win by the Everblades will send this series back to Jacksonville for games six and seven.

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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