ESTERO, Fla. — Fresh off a season that ended for the Florida Everblades in mid-June, the Blades are back on the ice at Hertz Arena opening training camp on Monday.
“It’s a real relief,” said head coach Brad Ralph.
Back to lead the Blades is head coach Brad Ralph who just signed a five-year contract extension with the team in the off-season.
“It’s nice to be rewarded for all the success we’ve had in the last five years but that being said, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with it, as well,” said Ralph.
Last season, Ralph’s Blades finished with the best regular season record in the ECHL, however, were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.
“In our minds, we could’ve gone all the way,” said forward Black Winiecki.
But already the off-ice challenges posed by playing in the middle of a pandemic last season are somewhat lessened.
“Last year was a tough year for everyone,” said Ralph.
Now if a team is at least 85 percent vaccinated, which the Blades are according to Ralph, then the ECHL allows them to operate normally.
“Definitely the vibes are a lot better,” Ralph said. “We’re all happy to be back. We’re happy to have some structure but certainly happy to not be going through COVID protocols.”
On ice, however, the team returns just eight players from last season’s roster though a bulk of the scoring in captain John Mccarron will once again be on the ice.
“We’re a winning culture here and we want to implement that with the new guys,” said Ralph.
“It’s just another opportunity to go out and chase the Kelly Cup.”
The puck drops for the 2021-22 season on October 23 against Jacksonville at Hertz Arena.