ESTERO, Fla. – For the Florida Everblades organization, the mantra throughout the 2022-23 season has been #RunItBack. On Friday night, that is exactly what the Everblades did.
A 4-3 victory over the Idaho Steelheads before a Hertz Arena record crowd of 7,855 fans closed out a four-game sweep of the Kelly Cup Finals as the Everblades became the fifth team to win back-to-back ECHL Kelly/Riley Cups, while also securing the league’s ultimate prize for the third time in the organization’s 25-year history. While three other organizations also have won three Kelly Cups, no team has won more.
The 4-0 series victory was the third sweep ever in the ECHL’s 35-year history.
Tyler Irvine snapped a 3-3 tie with the game-winning goal nearly eight minutes into the third period, just three minutes and 40 seconds after Stefan Leblanc registered the equalizer following three straight Idaho goals.
Everblades goaltender Cam Johnson became the first player in ECHL history to win back-to-back June M. Kelly Playoff MVP honors. Johnson made 32 saves to win his 16th game of the playoffs, going wire to wire in goal for the Everblades this postseason and is the third person to win the June M. Kelly Award twice.
Florida’s attack in the first period was relentless, keeping the pressure on Idaho and outshooting the visiting Steeleheads by a 13-5 margin. Sean Josling took control of matters late in the period, scoring two breakaway goals to give the Everblades a 2-0 lead. Joe Pendenza found Josling for the Blades’ first tally at 15:11, while Josling stole the puck and connected on an unassisted goal at 18:56 to give Florida a two-goal lead. The goals were Josling’s ninth and 10th of the playoffs.
Idaho flipped the script quickly in the middle period, knotting the game at 2-2 just over seven minutes into the frame. Ryan Dmowski scored twice, putting in a rebound at the 5:55 mark and adding another as the Steelheads were just seven seconds into a five-on-three advantage at 7:26. The Everblades successfully killed off another Idaho five-on-three advantage which overlapped with a four-minute double-minor midway through the period. Florida was unable to capitalize on two power-play opportunities in the final six minutes and the 2-2 deadlock remained intact at the second intermission.
Despite allowing two goals, Everblades goaltender Cam Johnson registered 16 saves in the second period, as Idaho enjoyed an 18-12 edge in shots on goal over the middle 20 minutes.
The Steelheads took their first lead of the game as A.J. White scored just 21 seconds into the third period, but the Everblades responded as Leblanc converted on the power play with a blast from the right point for his first goal of the postseason to tie the score at 3-3 at 4:19. Irvine and Josling added the helpers. For Josling, the three-point night was his first in an Everblades sweater.
Florida responded again, this time for good, as Irvine gave the Everblades a 4-3 lead with his 10th of the playoffs at the 7:59 mark, thanks to assists by Levko Koper and Brandon Hickey.
Of the five ECHL teams that have won back-to-back Kelly Cups, the Everblades are just the second squad to host the big trophy on home ice two years in a row.
With series victories over South Carolina, Jacksonville, Newfoundland and Idaho, the Everblades posted a 16-4-2 postseason record against four of the top six teams in the regular season, making the Blades the only Kelly Cup Champions to face opponents with a combined regular-season winning percentage of more than .700.
The crowd of 7,855 fans who witnessed Game Four topped the previous franchise record attendance of 7,805 that witnessed Game Five of the Kelly Cup Playoffs against Trenton on June 1, 2005.
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The Florida Everblades are the proud ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers and the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers.
Source: FL Everblades
Josling Celly (Photo Credits: Tyler Center)