ECHL Round One | Game Three: Florida Everblades vs. Jacksonville Icemen | 04/24/2024

Photo by: Official Florida Everblades Website

Estero, Fla.- After splitting the first two games of round one in Jacksonville, the Icemen and Florida Everblades continued their series in Estero, Fla., on Wednesday night. The Everblades will host games three, four, and five, and the series will continue in Jacksonville if necessary. These two teams have been more evenly matched than the scores have shown, and like in the regular season, Jacksonville has held the edge in head-to-head play.

Everblades head coach and GM Brad Ralph has used Cam Johnson in net and has kept the same roster on ice for all three games. The Icemen’s head coach and director of hockey operations, Nick Luukko, has only kept goaltender Matt Vernon as his consistent starter. Johnson led the ECHL in wins during the regular season with 49 and goals-against-average with 2.21. His 0.921 save percentage was good enough for eighth. Vernon, son of five-time NHL All-Star, two-time Stanley Cup Champion, and Hall of Famer Mike Vernon, was third in the league with 25 wins; he also posted a 2.67 GAA and a 0.909 save percentage. Icemen forward Brendan Harris led the team with 66 points, and Matt Iacopelli led the team with 27 goals. Everblades forward Oliver Chau led with 60 points and Bobo Carpenter with 28 goals. During the regular season, the Everblades won two of the eleven head-to-head meetings between the two clubs.

Photo by: Official Florida Everblades Website

4,874 screaming fans viewed Wednesday’s game at Hertz Arena. Fresh off the overtime winner on Sunday, the crowd hoped to push the Everblades to a lead in the series. As with the previous two games, the Icemen scored first. Derek Lodermeier (3) beat Johnson at 4:30 of the first period, and Chris Grando and Logan Cockerill got assists on the play. The Icemen would strike again at 8:15 when Garrett Van Whye scored his first goal of the series; Craig Martin and Olivier Nadeau were credited with assists. Both Craig Martin, holding, and Derek Lodermeier, high-sticking, received penalties in the first, but the Everblades continued to underperform on the powerplay.

Photo by: Official Florida Everblades Website

The second period started rough for the Everblades as Zach Uens received a cross-checking penalty at 1:56. The Everblades, however, were able to kill off the penalty. Oliver Chau’s hooking penalty at 7:50. Sean Josling (2) would get the Everblades on the scoreboard just past the period’s halfway mark. Matt Wedman and Oliver Chau assisted on the play. The Icemen needed only 33 seconds to return to a two-goal lead when Damien Giroux (1) scored from Craig Martin, his second assist of the game, and Julian Kislin. Captain Joe Pendenza (1) scored at 14:38 on a one-timer from the slot off a feed from Bobo Carpenter and Will Reilly. The Everblades scored a minute and a half later when Jordan Sambrook (1) scored on a blast from Sean Josling and Matt Wedman, his second of the game. The period ended with the Icemen on a powerplay off a roughing penalty on Matt Wedman at 18.40.

The third period saw a massive push by the Icemen as they outshot the Everblades 12-4. Neither team would score the deciding goal nor receive a penalty, and the teams left the ice tied 3-3.

Photo by: Official Florida Everblades Website

Unlike in game two, the Everblades would see the Icemen score the game-winner when Derek Lodermeier (4) continued to find holes in Cam Johnson in this series. Jerry D’Amigo and Brandon Fortunato recorded assists on the game-winner.

Cam Johnson took his second loss in the series with a 0.897 save percentage, while Matt Vernon won with a 0.914 save percentage. Derek Lodermeier led the Icemen with two goals, and Craig Martin had two assists. Sean Josling had a goal and an assist, and Matt Wedman had two assists to lead the Everblades in scoring.

Photo by: Official Jacksonville Icemen Website

The Icemen have some unusual offensive leaders in the series, with points-leader Brendan Harris recording zero points in the one game he’s played and Matt Iacopelli also off the scoresheet. Derek Lodermeier has emerged as the team leader in goals and points, with four goals and five points. Brandon Fortunato and Christopher Brown are tied with four points. Goaltender Matt Vernon has a 0.945 save percentage, up from his season average of 0.909. The Everblades continue to need help finding their offense as scoring leaders Bobo Carpenter and Oliver Chau have one point each. Matt Wedman, recently reassigned from the AHL, hadn’t played with the Everblades all season, yet he is tied with the team’s points lead with three. Sean Josling, also tied with three points, leads the team with two goals. Two-time Kelly Cup Playoffs MVP winner Cam Johnson is having a rough series. His 0.916 save percentage is below his season average of 0.921. The Everblade’s special teams play has also been a disappointment. They are 0-7 on the powerplay, while the penalty kill, in the top five for the league during the season, has been effective 64.3 percent of the time, allowing five goals on 14 opportunities.

Removing the 4-0 Icemen victory from game one and looking at games two and three, one can surmise that this series will continue to be tightly contested and may go to seven games. The Icemen have very little that they need to improve upon as they are, on paper, carrying every major stat. In contrast, the Everblades need to stay out of the penalty box, improve scoring five-on-five and on the powerplay, improve neutral zone and rush play, and have Cam Johnson return to his MVP performances the past two championship runs.

Game four is back at Hertz Arena on Friday; puck drop is 7:30 p.m.

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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