ESTERO, Fla. – It’s the battle of The Sunshine State in the South Division Semifinal, as the defending Eastern Conference Champion Florida Everblades take on the Jacksonville Icemen.
With another ECHL regular season in the books, there comes yet another 50-win year for the Florida Everblades. Florida Head Coach Brad Ralph, in his third season with the club, put together his second consecutive 100-point season in 2018-19. The play of phenomenal rookie goaltender Jeremy Helvig, All-ECHL Second Team members Joe Cox and Derek Sheppard, and captain John McCarron no doubt helped the Everblades to nearly capturing their second Brabham Cup regular season title in as many years (Cincinnati inched Florida out point-wise, 110 to 106).
Florida’s first round opponent, the Jacksonville Icemen, qualified for their first postseason appearance in franchise history after only their second season in north Florida. The Icemen held onto the third seed in the South Division right up until the last day of the season, when South Carolina defeated Atlanta 3-2 on April 7 to tie Jacksonville in the standings. Jason Christie, the winningest coach in ECHL history with over 1,100 games behind the bench, finishes up his second season as Icemen head coach by losing four out of five games, limping into the playoffs while being relegated to the four seed (tiebreaker went to South Carolina on goal differential).
Final Regular Season Records:
Florida Everblades: 50-16-5-1; #1 in South Division, #1 in Eastern Conference
Jacksonville Icemen: 36-32-2-2; #4 in South Division, #9 in Eastern Conference
Game 1 – Thursday, April 11 – Jacksonville at FLORIDA, 7:30 p.m. ET
Game 2 – Saturday, April 13 – Jacksonville at FLORIDA, 7 p.m. ET
Game 3 – Thursday, April 18 – Florida at JACKSONVILLE, 7 p.m. ET
Game 4 – Friday, April 19 – Florida at JACKSONVILLE, 7:30 p.m. ET
*Game 5 – Saturday, April 20 – Florida at JACKSONVILLE, 7 p.m. ET
*Game 6 – Monday, April 22 – Jacksonville at FLORIDA, 7:30 p.m. ET
*Game 7 – Wednesday, April 24 – Jacksonville at FLORIDA, 7:30 p.m. ET
*=> If Necessary
Season Series Recap:
Florida defeated Jacksonville in just over two-thirds of the games played between the inter-state rivals, taking nine wins in thirteen contests. The Everblades also went undefeated at home against the Icemen (6-0), while Jacksonville went 3-4 at their home arena (Vystar Veterans Memorial Coliseum). In the Everblades’ nine victories against the Icemen, seven of them were by two goals or more.
How Florida Wins:
Staying the course. The Everblades netted a 13-2-1 record in March and April, closing out the regular season with both an eight-game win streak in March and five straight victories in April. Oh, and the last game of the regular season? A 3-1 victory against Jacksonville at home, as good of a harbinger as any to finish the 2018-19 campaign.
Florida also received forward John McCarron back from AHL Stockton on April 8, giving the Everblades their appointed leader and an additional scoring asset to the likes of Cox, Blake Winiecki, and Kyle Platzer.
How Jacksonville Wins:
Returning netminder Ken Appleby stands on his head and forward Wacey Rabbit gets a lot of scoring help. Appleby returned to the Icemen roster after being re-assigned by AHL Manitoba on April 9. Jacksonville had to call upon the services of journeyman goaltender Angus Redmond to finish out the last seven games of the season. Redmond went 3-4-0 before being recalled to San Diego on April 8.
While Rabbit has three game-winning goals in his last fifteen games played (and 29 tallies during the regular season, good for 12th in the league), he can’t be all the Icemen rely upon in order to overcome the hockey juggernaut that is Florida. Jacksonville needs some major offensive support to step up in order to earn four victories and move on to round two.