ECHL Season Recap: Florida Everblades

Photo by: Patrick Onufer at Patrick O'Photos

The champagne is gone, the confetti swept up, and the player lockers have been cleaned out for the Florida Everblades’ 2023-24 season, an impossible and record-breaking season. The Everblades, winner of the Kelly Cup Championship for a third consecutive year, started the season, as does every team in the league, with the goal of hoisting the Kelly Cup. Despite the grinding 72-game regular season, the 16 wins needed in the playoffs, the injuries, trades, call-ups, and locker room motivation, head coach and GM Brad Ralph created a team and system around a core group of players that served as a recipe for success. Captain Joe Pendenza, Kyle Neuber, Bobo Carpenter, and Cam Johnson are the only players who played with the Everblades during this three-season championship streak, and Joe Pendenza and Cam Johnson are the only players to have played in all three playoff runs for the team. Is there a fourth championship on the horizon for the Everblades?

Photo by: Patrick Onufer at Patrick O’Photos

The Everblades kicked off their 2023-24 season with an opening night road victory over the Orlando Solar Bears. They proceeded to win three of their next nine games to finish 4-6 over the season’s first ten games. Reviewing the Everblades’ season in ten-game segments showed they only had a dominating ten-game stretch in late March/ early April when they went 7-3. They added two victories to close out the regular season, giving them a 9-3 record over the last twelve games, which helped clench them a spot in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Coach Ralph often mentioned during his pre-game interviews that the team needed to find their identity and string wins together to break out of the middle of the pack. Florida clinched a birth in the playoffs when they defeated the South Carolina Stingrays, 2-1, in the second to last game of the season. They ended with 40 wins, 23 losses, and 89 points for third in the South Division. In comparison, the Everblades recorded 38 wins, 34 losses, and 85 points in 2022 and 42, 21, and 94 in 2021: their previous Kelly Cup Championship seasons. Florida recorded their lowest goals for with 224 in the three seasons, but they also recorded the lowest goals against with 186. Regardless of the wins-losses, goal differential, and ranking in the division, the key point is to make the playoffs.

The most important thing is to win enough games to get into the playoffs. Then, once you get into the playoffs, win.

Joe Flacco

The Everblades did make the playoffs and drew their first-round opponent in the Jacksonville Icemen, a team they had trouble with during the regular season, going 2-9 against them. The Everblades found themselves in a deep hole in the first round after losing game one to the Icemen 4-0. They won 2-1 in game two in overtime but lost the next two games 4-3 in overtime and 5-0. Down three games to one and facing elimination, the Everblades found their winning stride and defeated the Icemen in three straight games, including a 4-0 shutout in game seven. Florida’s next opponent was another Florida team, the Orlando Solar Bears. The Everblades jumped out to three games to zero lead before an own-goal jump-started the Solar Bears in game four, taking them to a 4-2 win. The Everblades, however, would finish the series in game five 2-1, setting up a matchup against the North Division Champions, the Adirondack Thunder. The teams split the first two games in New York before heading to Estero, Fla. Cam Johnson managed to shut out the Thunder in two games, 4-0 and 3-0, giving the Everblades a 3-1 series lead. Adirondack would win game five 4-2, sending the series back to Glens Falls at 3-2 Florida. Florida would secure the Eastern Conference Championship in game six with a 4-3 victory. Facing the Everblades in the Kelly Cup Finals were the Kansas City Mavericks, the league’s Brabham Cup winner with 114 points. The Everblades dominated the Mavericks in game one in Independence, Mo., 8-1. Kansas City would rebound for a game-two win at home, 5-1, to even the series at one game apiece. The Everblades, however, would close out the series and their third-straight Kelly Cup Championship at home with a 6-3, 4-1, and 4-3 overtime victory. Oliver Chau was named MVP of the Playoffs with his nine goals, 14 assists, and 23 points.

Photo by: Patrick Onufer at Patrick O’Photos

The Everblades started this memorable season with eleven players from their 2022-23 Cup-winning season, ten having played in that season’s playoffs. These players provided league and playoff experience for new players in the locker room to learn from. Cam Johnson entered this season fresh off his second consecutive Kelly Cup Playoffs MVP and poised to start most of the games from Florida in net. He posted his best save percentage of 0.921 in 2023-24 of his three seasons with the Everblades, and he was even more impressive in the playoffs, posting a 0.932. He currently sits in fourth place in the ECHL for most playoff games played with 63, tied for second in playoff shutouts in one year with four in both 2022 and 2023, third for most playoff wins with 47, and tied for first in playoff wins in a year with 16 in 2023 and 2024. Joe Pendenza was third, first, and second in total points scored for the team in the regular season for 2022, 2023, and 2024, respectively. He also was in the top ten in scoring for the team in the playoffs all three seasons. Bobo Carpenter showed his scoring prowess in the playoffs this season with twelve goals and 23 points, which was the first playoff run he’d played with the Everblades. Coach Brad Ralph holds the top spot in the playoff record books with the most career playoff games at 153, wins at 95, and losses at 58. He is also fifth in most career playoff coaching wins with 486, five behind John Marks, and fourth place.

Photo by: Patrick Onufer at Patrick O’Photos

Next year’s Everblades will look different than this year. Top pair defenseman Cole Moberg has joined Patrick Holway in Europe for the 2024-25 season, having signed up to play in Slovakia. Defenseman Will Reilly also signed in Europe, choosing to play in the Czech Republic in 2024-25. Forward Bobo Carpenter and defenseman Zachary Tsekos were traded to Cincinnati to complete an earlier trade involving future considerations. Defensemen Dustyn McFaul, a player who signed late in the season when his college season ended, was traded to Fort Wayne to complete the future considerations. Forward Colin Jacobs was traded to Florida and then subsequently traded to Idaho to complete future considerations. Florida did add defenseman Santino Centorame from Indy; he is a second-year professional who played in 63 regular season and five playoff games for the Indy Fuel this year. The Everblades’ season-ending roster includes goaltender David Tendeck; defensemen Adrien Bisson, Santino Centorame, Patrick Holway, who signed for a second season in Europe; Cole Moberg, who has signed in Europe, Jordan Sambrook, and Riese Zmolek; and forwards Tommy Apap, Ben Brar, Oliver Chau, Andrew Fyten, Jesse Lansdell, Logan Lambdin, Reed Lebster, Craig Needham, Kyle Neuber, Isaac Nurse, Chris Ordoobadi, Joe Pendenza, and Matthew Wedman. With the departures of Holway and Moberg, the Everblades have one goaltender, four defensemen, and 15 forwards on their season-ending roster, which serves as a solid core for the staff to base the team’s 2024-25 roster.

Photo by: Patrick Onufer at Patrick O’Photos

The Everblades start their hunt for a fourth-consecutive Kelly Cup Championship on October 19 on the road against the Jacksonville Icemen. They play their next game and home opener on October 25 against the Atlanta Gladiators.

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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