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Blades training camp notebook: Team filled with youth

Naples Daily News

ESTERO As the Florida Everblades opened training camp on Monday with their youngest and most inexperienced team in years, that youth seemed to translate to energy about the upcoming 2007-08 season.

On the same day that Blades '06-07 captain Ryan Brindley announced he wouldn't be playing this year, following fellow veterans Reggie Berg and Brent McDonald, six pro hockey rookies took the ice at Germain Arena.

Just a few hours after practice, the Blades added four more players to their training camp roster -- two of them rookies.

Most of those rookies have decorated resumes from junior hockey leagues or from universities, but the Blades are still in a transition year this season -- from a seasoned team to one that may be heavier in talent but lighter in games played.

The team wrapped up practice early on Monday, in fact, because coach Gerry Fleming said the players were a little more tired than he expected. Nonetheless, they did a full off-ice and weights workout after their on-ice morning practice.

While there has been upheaval this offseason, eleven players from last year's American Conference Finals team return for the Blades: the two veterans: Ernie Hartlieb and Ryan Van Buskirk (who was signed Monday afternoon from a tryout contract), plus forwards Adam Taylor, Brad Zancanaro, Derek Damon, Jonathan Lehun and Jarret Lukin and defensemen Steve Czech, Franklin MacDonald, Bret Nasby and Brett Peterson. Another defenseman from last year, Martin Tuma, was sent down by the Rochester Americans (AHL) team early last week. But Tuma wasn't at camp with the Blades.

The new players who weren't at camp are rookies Tyler Plante and Jordan Henry as well as returnees MacDonald and Taylor. All are Florida Panthers prospects and were sent down by the Panthers' AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, on Monday afternoon.

Plante, a 20-year-old rookie, was signed in the second round of the 2005 NHL Draft. He spent the last four years in the Western Hockey League, and last season Plante, 6-foot-3, 202 pounds, was 30-14-9 with a 2.71 goals against average.

Henry, 21, will supplement the Blades' defensive efforts along with MacDonald, who played a big part in the Blades' penalty kill. MacDonald had four goals and 20 assists in 56 regular season games last season for the Blades, while Henry had seven goals and 25 assists with the Western (junior) Hockey League in Canada.

Taylor, six-foot, 200 pounds, was a part of the Blades' most potent offensive line last season, adding size to Vince Bellissimo's skill with the puck and Brad Parsons' set-up ability. Taylor is expected to add scoring punch to the Blades' lineup this season after scoring 21 goals and adding 20 assists in just 37 regular-season games last year.

With Taylor sent down to the Blades, it likely means former Blade David Brine will remain with the Amerks at least for now. Brine scored nine goals and added 21 assists in 52 games with the Blades last season, while adding four goals and four assists in 22 games with the Amerks.

Also attending Blades camp, on a tryout basis, is Rick Ferroni, a 25-year-old forward who played last season at Arizona State and spent two seasons in the Tier II Ontario juniors league. Fleming said Amerks coach Randy Cunneyworth recommended Ferroni as a player who should be given a shot with the Blades.

"Sometimes guys can fall through the cracks," Fleming said of Ferroni.

As for the missing Tuma, Fleming said Tuma was up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on Monday, trying to "work out some things with his agent," apparently to try and get into a better league than the ECHL. Tuma is a Panthers prospect, so if he does play in the ECHL, it will have to be for Florida unless he is traded. If he plays in the AHL, it would have to be for Rochester unless he is traded. Rochester has a surplus of defensemen this year, which may be adding to Tuma's consternation.

The 22-year-old spent the majority of last year with the Blades, adding nine assists in 32 games. He also played 23 games with the Amerks. He was called up to the AHL for the playoffs last spring but suffered a serious injury when an opponent's skate severed a tendon in his left wrist. Tuma's hockey career seemed in jeopardy, but he apparently recovered this summer and played well at Panthers and Amerks camps before being sent to the Blades with Nasby.

VAN'S THE OTHER VET: Van Buskirk started Blades training camp on a tryout contract before being signed to the team on Monday afternoon.

Van Buskirk suspected the try-out was more of a formality, though, even before he knew he was being signed.

"They've seen me play, and they know what I can do," Van Buskirk, 27, said after the first day of camp. "I didn't want to end my career the way it went last year. Anything can change with guys coming down (to the Blades), but I'm hoping I'll be signed."

At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Van Buskirk offers some needed size on defense for the Blades, plus a bruising style of play that isn't mirrored by most of the other defensemen.

WHERE'S LEHUN? Besides Tuma, another player who was expected to be at training camp didn't make it to Germain Arena on Monday. Jonathan Lehun, a re-signed forward, was still on his way to Southwest Florida on Monday morning. His immigration papers from Canada had just come through, so Lehun was just south of Orlando when he called Fleming to say he wouldn't make the on-ice practice.

"He should be here any minute, though," Fleming said as the Blades prepared for their off-ice workout.

BRAD'S BACK OK: Brad Herauf, traded from the Utah Grizzlies, was arguably the Blades' most exciting offseason acquisition. He has been called one of the ECHL's toughest players and collected 556 penalty minutes in his previous two ECHL seasons.

After dealing frequent fighter Bill Kinkel to Utah midway through last season, the Blades lacked an "enforcer" type player, a void Herauf is expected to fill, as well as anchoring an offensive line with Hartlieb and rookie Kyle McAllister, as of Monday.

The only question surrounding Herauf has been his health. He had a herniated disc in his spine that caused a great deal of pain near the end of last season. But Herauf spent the summer re-habbing his back and going through physical therapy. He said on Monday that he has been skating for the past month or so and has been skating daily at Germain Arena since arriving in Florida last week.

"I don't foresee any problems (with my back)," he said.

At Monday's practice, Herauf played every drill and didn't show any signs of pain.

WHO'S IN GOAL? Before learning that they'd receive Plante in goal from the Amerks, the Blades needed a goalie for the first day of training camp.

On Monday morning, former Blades goalie Cam McCormick, who still lives in Southwest Florida, filled in.

The Blades had expected to possibly get last year's backup, David Shantz, back in goal this season. Instead, Shantz will be the backup in Rochester, while Peters and Plante battle it out for the starting job in Florida. Peters is likely the first choice, as he has a year of AHL experience and Plante is a rookie.

LEE'S IN IOWA: Former Blades defenseman Chris Lee has made his way up the ranks to the AHL this season. He signed a contract with the Iowa Stars, marking his first-ever AHL contract.

Lee played 37 games with the Blades last year but spent most of the second half of the season with the Omaha Knights of the AHL, where he excelled in the playoffs to score six goals and add three assists in 16 games.

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