A couple of Florida Everblades fans watch Friday night's season-opening win against the Atlanta Gladiators from Breakaway Sports Pub inside Germain Arena. GREGG HARCY/CSI
The Florida Everblades are off to a 2-0 start in this, their 20th ECHL season.
With 800 wins and an all-time winning percentage of better than .633, should we be surprised?
Since dropping the puck for the first time back in 1998, the Everblades have been a fixture in both the playoffs and in the community — and not just in Lee County, where they reside, but also in Collier County. They’re donating $1 from every ticket sold over the first two regular-season games, as well as their two preseason contests, to the Naples Zoo, which suffered great damage from Hurricane Irma a little over a month ago.
I walked through the concourse inside Germain Arena before Friday night’s season opener against the Atlanta Gladiators. It quickly became apparent that the Everblades have drawing power for men and women, young and old, affluent and working class.
It doesn’t cost much to go to games, either — could be as low as $50-$60 for a family of four (including parking). A couple years ago, I took my son to Tampa for an NHL game between the Lightning and New York Rangers. From tickets to parking to concessions, it cost roughly $130, and the only reason it didn’t cost more was because our seats were near the top of the arena.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Jim Macie moved to Collier County after retiring in 2002. He said he has been an Everblades season ticket holder for 13 years.
“I’ve had Buffalo Sabres season tickets for 37 years, and to have hockey down here, it just makes it for me,” Macie said. “I never thought I’d leave Buffalo and leave the team there, and I still support them, but the Everblades now are my team here.”
The Everblades already have a strong following in Collier County, but to acknowledge their 20th anniversary season, I thought I would come up with 20 reasons why more Collier residents should take the reasonably short drive up I-75 to catch a game.
1. KEEPING COOL
For those of you who suffer through the pizza oven that is SW Florida in the summertime and are ready to sell the house and move north when October rolls around and the heat index is still pushing 100, take a breath, put on a long sleeve shirt or even a jacket and go to one or all three remaining October games at Germain. And if the heat lingers into November … Go Habs!
2. PERENNIAL PLAYOFF FEVER
Only once in their first 19 years of existence have the Everblades missed out on the postseason. Given the reputation and stability this franchise has built for itself, odds are we’ll get to see the Blades back in the playoffs when April rolls around.
3. CHANCE OF A FLURRY IN THE FORECAST
The Everblades won their season opener with the help of a three-goal barrage in a span of 2:18. At this level of hockey, these scoring binges seem to be fairly commonplace.
4. OLD JERSEY
Walking around the Germain concourse or scanning through the crowd, you’ll see a plethora of NHL — and even international — sweaters. I saw a No. 9 Bobby Hull red Chicago Blackhawks jersey Friday night. (BTW, Brett Hull played for five NHL teams — as popular as his dad is, how is it that he never landed in Chicago?)
5. DODGEBALL AT INTERMISSION
While us mere mortals wouldn’t dare square up against him on the football field, get hulking Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on a hockey rink with a softer ball, and … “Bring it Gronk!” Of course, I’m alluding to that night in 2015 when Gronkowski — who was in town visiting his mother — caught an Everblades game 11 days after winning a Super Bowl and took part in the popular intermission activity.
6. MUSICAL CHAIRS AT INTERMISSION
A warning to all you men out there, when it comes down to you and a young lady for that final seat …
7. THE GREATS
Ernie Hartlieb, accompanied by fellow Everblades icon Tom Buckley, got the 2017-18 season underway Friday with the ceremonial first drop of the puck. I assume we can expect more franchise greats to make an appearance this season.
8. FREE MASSAGES?!
In-game promotions and giveaways are commonplace at Everblades games. During Friday’s opener, one fan learned she had the lucky seat that won her a free massage. And if I heard the public address announcer correctly, it wasn’t just her — the entire section won a free massage.
9. BREAKAWAY SPORTS PUB
The best seat in all of Southwest Florida sports. Take a seat in those classic short-back wooden chairs with arm rests, nosh on some good eats and sip your suds — all while catching the game. Also, kids 12 and under eat free with the purchase of an adult entree during all Friday games.
10. THE TERRACE
Located on the opposite side of the arena from Breakaway, it’s another great place to mingle while enjoying a beverage and watching the game.
11. NOT A BAD SEAT IN THE HOUSE
I’ve sat at the top of the arena on three occasions (luxury suite, press box and Breakaway), and there truly isn’t a bad spot to watch a game.
12. PRO SHOP
Stop in before a game to buy an Everblades jersey or other team memorabilia. Also, I haven’t checked out the hockey section in Dick’s Sporting Goods, but I can’t imagine it has the selection of ice skates and other equipment that your little Sidney Crosby (or Connor McDavid) need.
13. MARVEL SUPERHERO NIGHT
Circle Nov. 18 on your calendar. This is really cool. Click on the link below to learn more.
14. THE LAST JEDI
On Friday, Dec. 15, I hope to take my son to see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. On Saturday, Dec. 16, I hope to take him to Star Wars Night at Germain Arena when the Everblades host the South Carolina Stingrays.
15. “DID YOU SAY BOUNCE HOUSE?”
Always a crowd pleaser with the 10-and-under crowd, the Everblades hold tailgate parties outside Germain Arena for all Saturday home games. (BTW, when I was a young boy, the only time I got a chance to get inside a bounce house was when one of my friends had a birthday party at McDonald’s, or during that one week a year when the local church held its carnival.)
16. TEDDY BEAR TOSS
The one night — other than a Kelly Cup close-out game — when you absolutely know the house will be packed. Always held with Christmas around the corner, the teddy bears are collected and soon thereafter delivered by Everblades players to local children’s charities in the area.
17. THE JERSEY BOYS
One thing the Everblades are known for — besides routine playoff appearances and the Teddy Bear toss — are donning outlandish alternate uniforms and then auctioning off those uniforms to raise money for local causes.
18. THE EVERBABES
As a married man, you’ll understand when I say, “Moving on …”
Anytime a mascot is listed on a promotion schedule, and especially when that listing includes the phrase “Mascot Mania,” the chance for a video to go viral always exists. The Everblades will celebrate Swampee’s birthday during their Friday, Nov. 10, game against Cincinnati.
20. A LESSON IN CURRENCY
Don’t have little tikes to send off to school on Thursday mornings? The Everblades are offering $2 beer, wine and hot dogs for the handful of Wednesday night games on their schedule. Also on Wednesdays, students who present their college ID can gain admission for $5 and are given free parking.
Email Gregg Hardy at email@example.com. Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider.