On the Bench with the Everblades | 03/06/2024

Photo by: James Slemp for Inside the Rink

The Florida Everblades have 15 games in March, all within the South Division, and all are critical in determining the playoff picture. They kicked off the month with a rare victory against the South Carolina Stingrays in North Charleston on March 1st. However, they ended that three-game series against the Stingrays on two tough losses. Last night’s win against the visiting Jacksonville Icemen was a huge boost to the team both in the standings and locker room; that was their first win against the Icemen this season, having fallen short six times.

March is also proving to be a challenging one for the team as the transaction bug has hit the team hard. Fresh off the callups of defensemen Cole Moberg and Nathan Staois at the end of February, the Everblades lost defenseman Zach Uens to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL on March 4th. Forward Brett Davis was traded to the Rapid City Rush on March 6th for forward Jimmy Soper. Everblades’ management canvassed the colleges to help fill the vacancies in the lineup, finding forward Kieran Craig from Carleton University on February 27th. They added defensemen Adrien Bisson from Mercyhurst University and Justin MacPherson from Saint Mary’s University. Craig has played in four games, scoring one goal and three assists. Bisson and MacPherson made it to Estero, Fla., for the Everblades’ game against the Icemen Wednesday night. Adding Bisson and MacPherson now gives Coach Ralph seven defensemen to choose for the lineup.

The Everblades’ first game against the Stingrays on Friday night was a close affair until midway through the third period. Everblades’ forward Logan Lambdin kicked off the scoring with his eleventh of the year. The Stingrays tied it up on Nick Lievermann’s tenth, and the first period ended 1-1. The Everblades regained the lead at 4:43 on Riese Zmolek’s (4) goal; Kieran Craig recorded his first professional point with his secondary assist. The Everblades would break the game wide open in the third with three goals in two minutes. Mark Senden (11) scored two, Joe Pendenza (19) one, and the Everblades would take the victory 5-1.

Game two on Saturday started much like the night before. Logan Lambdin (12) would kick off the scoring again. The Stingrays would tie the game up on Jonny Evans’ fourteenth. Zach Uens (2) would put the Everblades back in front, but the Stingrays would tie the game with a minute left when Austin Magera (22) added to his team lead in goals and points. Stingrays’ forward Ivan Lodnia (6) would put the Stingrays in front for good at 10:29 in the second period. Ethan Strang (1) and Ryan Leibold (11) added insurance goals, and the Stingrays won 5-2.

The third and final game in the series saw the Stingrays come out on top 3-2. Sunday’s game was the tightest of the series, with little sustained offensive play for either team. Ethan Strang (2) had the only goal for either team in the first period, giving the Stingrays a 1-0 lead at the end of the period. Connor Moore (6) extended the Stingray lead to two at 1:24 of the second, but Kieran Craig scored his first professional goal 49 seconds later to get the Everblades on the board and close the lead to one. Sean Josling (15) tied the game on the power play at 6:32. The Stingrays took the lead at 13:12 of the third period when Jon McDonald (3) scored on the team’s fourth and final shot of the period. The Stingrays took four of six points for the series, opening their lead on the Everblades for third place in the South Division.

Photo by: Bernie Walls for Inside the Rink

5,447 fans welcomed the Everblades back to Estero, Fla., last night as they took on the visiting Jacksonville Icemen, a team they hadn’t beaten this season. Goaltender David Tendeck got the call in net for the Everblades, and he continued his dominant play, stopping 32 of 33 shots for a .970 save percentage. Tendeck is 3-0-0 since joining the team, posting a .972 save percentage. It would take overtime to decide the game as neither team found the back of the net in the first two periods; the Everblades outshot the Icemen 34-22 in that span. Oliver Chau (18) scored first at 1:33 in the third, but Matheson Iacopelli (21) tied the game at 8:13. Mark Senden scored his twelfth of the season at 1:17 in overtime to secure the win.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

The Everblades play the fifth-place Orlando Solar Bears at home Friday night and in Orlando on a rare Tuesday night. Three points separate the two teams, and a sweep by the Everblades would open a comfortable lead. The third-place Stingrays have three games next week, one each against the Savannah Ghost Pirates and Atlanta Gladiators, the bottom two teams in the Eastern Conference, and one against the Toledo Walleye, who are third in the Western Conference.

I sat with Everblades’ defenseman Will Rielly On the Bench on Tuesday to discuss the defense, his first full year in the ECHL, and how they can beat the teams ahead of them in the standings.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Inside the Rink: The Everblades had a great win against the South Carolina Stingrays on Friday night; what could you do that night that you couldn’t do on Saturday and Sunday?

Will Reilly: Friday’s game was closer than the scoreboard, but it was our best game of the weekend. We got off to a good start and kept it going; we stuck to our game plan. I give them credit for improving their play, but we didn’t play our best. We struggled in the neutral zone, and that cost us both games.

ITR: The Everblades continue to struggle against the Stingrays and the Jacksonville Icemen, who are in town this week; how do you overcome those struggles to get wins?

WR: We must figure out how to get it together against these two teams, and it starts Wednesday against Jacksonville. These are two teams that we’re likely to face in the playoffs. It’s that time of the season when the learning lessons are over, and we have to go out and perform.

ITR: You’re having your best year as a professional with six goals, 23 points, and +7; what do you contribute to that success here with the Everblades?

WR: Opportunities. I’ve never had this much ice time, and that’s been a factor. I battled injuries early this year, but I’m feeling healthy in the last twenty games.

ITR: You’ve skated with Zach Uens on the top defensive pairing for several games; how does losing him to the Charlotte Checkers impact the team and you specifically?

WR: It’s a massive loss. We’ve played together for the past ten games and been solid. Playing without him will be a big adjustment, but that’s how pro hockey works.

ITR: Do you know who your defensive partner will be tomorrow night?

WR: With the injuries and losing Uens, I have no idea. Management is working on a couple of new guys coming in.

ITR: This is your first entire season in the ECHL after playing the last three seasons in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Tucson Roadrunners; how does this season compare to those?

WR: The AHL is a higher league, and the game is very different. The two leagues are similar in the callups, but there are more transactions in the ECHL. Trades, signings, and releases are more frequent in the ECHL. I can’t even count how many guys we’ve had in Florida this year.

ITR Bonus Question: Is this the year the Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Cup?

WR: The NHL is wide open this year. It would be great for the city, but it’s too early to tell; we’ll see how the trade deadline goes.

Everblades’ forward and fan favorite Chris Ordoobadi joined me On the Bench Thursday for his take on the team’s first win Wednesday night against the Jacksonville Icemen, how the new players fit in, his role with the team, and his time in Sweden. He was initially scheduled to sit with me on Wednesday, but he got notified that he was in the lineup against the Icemen, so he postponed.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

Inside the Rink: The team won a great game last night against the Jacksonville Icemen, its first win against them in seven tries. What did you do differently last night than in the previous six games against them?

Chris Ordoobadi: They play with a lot of speed and are very opportunistic. They try to score off the rush. We did a great job controlling the neutral zone and denying them clean entries. We transitioned quickly. We’re both defensive teams. We knew it would be low-scoring because we’re also a defensive team. Last night’s biggest difference was how we managed pucks in the neutral zone and how we defended the neutral zone. We’ve had a strategy to build a wall on our blue line. Our first two forecheckers, almost direct traffic through the neutral zone, have changed, and that’s been effective.

ITR: You’ve had an influx of players signed from college. Defensemen Aiden Bisson and Justin MacPherson signed yesterday and were in last night’s lineup. Forward Kieran Craig signed in late February and has four points in four games. What do these younger players bring to the locker room?

CO: They bring in a lot of energy. They’re giving it their all to stay in the league and earn a spot. We have a lot of travel that takes a toll on the body and the mind, and having these guys bring a lot of energy to the locker room is important. The one thing different about these transactions in Florida compared to other teams I’ve been on is the belief and feeling that we’re getting the best that there is and that the guys here will help us win. We feel that we will win the Cup this year and the next. It stinks when a close friend leaves the team, but it helps to know that the guy replacing him is here to help us win this year. The focus and belief in this organization is that we will win a championship, and anything less is unacceptable. It gives us confidence. That is something unique to being an Everblade.

ITR: The Everblades have 15 games in March. How do you mentally prepare for this stretch when every game is critical for the playoff race?

CO: It’s tough when there are a lot of games and travel, and every game is vital to the playoff push. You must focus on one day at a time and the next game. You must stay present and, in the moment, have a next-up mentality. If you look too far ahead and at other teams and standings, those are just distractions. The only thing that matters is to gear up for the next game. We learn about teams, their tendencies, and their strategies at this point of the season. However, it’s rare to play the same team multiple times based on the changes in the rosters in this league, but despite that, you get a good sense of how a general style of play is. It’s a double-edged sword because the other teams get to know you, too.

ITR: Players often have different playing styles and roles on a team; how do you describe your style and role with the Everblades?

CO: I’m a physical power forward who stands up for my teammates and adds toughness to the team. I’m comfortable in that role, and I recognized early in my career that this would be my style of hockey. I enjoy it; I like having that physical presence. I like getting pucks deep and finishing my checks in the corners. I want to give my teammates extra time and space on the ice. We have such great fans; they pack Hertz Arena every night, and you can feel the crowd’s energy when you finish a hit or fight. I’ll never forget that feeling when I’m no longer playing hockey.

ITR: Tell us about your time in Sweden. Do you speak Swedish?

CO: I don’t speak Swedish; the only phrase I know how to say in Swedish is, I don’t know how to talk to Swedish. I am grateful that I went over there, more from an experience standpoint and not just from a hockey perspective. I went over to Sweden looking for a place to play and trying to start my career. Looking back, I value all the experiences away from the rink. The game is less physical, but I still played my brand. I still finished my hits, which threw people off as they didn’t expect it. I forced it to be more physical because it was the only way I knew how to play. It was also good to learn patience with the puck and be in a more offensive role where I was looked upon to score. It helped me develop and become a more well-rounded player.

ITR Bonus Question: Which town is better, Orlando or Estero?

CO: I liked Orlando because of the restaurants and the amusement parks. But Estero takes the cake for me. The beaches, like Fort Myers Beach and Naples, are incredible. It’s great to have the opportunity to leave the rink and know I can go to the beach. So many people from around the country come here to see the beaches. So many former Everblades’ players moved here with their families after they retired, so that speaks for how special the city is.

ITR: You mentioned the beach. I talked with goaltender David Tendeck last week, and he said he had visited Fort Myers Beach once, but he didn’t have a car to go back. So I challenge you to take him to the beach, especially since he gave you an outstanding performance last night against the Icemen.

CO: 100%. If there’s one guy that should be sitting up in a lounge chair, with sunglasses on and a bunch of sunscreen is him. We’re definitely taking him to the beach on Saturday. You have my word.

Thanks to Will Reilly and Chris Ordoobadi for joining me on the Bench this week. On Friday, the Florida Everblades will play the Orlando Solar Bears in Hertz Arena. 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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