2007-08 News

Ryan Brindley
Everblades captain Ryan Brindley celebrates as Florida ties it up in the third period against Dayton in the ECHL American Conference Finals at Germain Arena on Tuesday, May 8, 2007 in Estero, Fla.
Photo by DAVID ALBERS/Naples Daily News

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Blades' Brindley taking off 2007-08 season

Naples Daily News

ESTERO The Florida Everblades lost a leader on Monday, as veteran defenseman and '06-07 captain Ryan Brindley confirmed that he wouldn't be returning to the team this season.

As the Blades kicked off training camp Monday morning at Germain Arena, the ice seemed somewhat different without Brindley, who at age 31 and as a four-year veteran was an anchor. Brindley's decision not to play marks the third Blades veteran to leave the team after the '06-07 season. Reggie Berg, Brindley's closest friend on the team, announced his retirement and subsequent move back to Minnesota in July. Brent McDonald, who played with the Blades from 2000-05 and from '06-07, also announced he was taking a year off to focus on his family and his new ice hockey training program, Ice AdvantEdge.

Of the three, Brindley may have struggled with his decision the most. He wavered throughout the summer, waiting until the last possible second to decide if he was going to play or not. The father of two young children and manager of a landscaping company still lives in Estero, across the road from Germain Arena in The Club at Grandezza.

"This is the hardest decision I've ever had to make," he said.

But after four years with the Blades and two years juggling his landscaping business, family and a pro hockey career, Brindley decided he needed to cut something out.

He called coach Gerry Fleming this past Saturday and broke the news.

"I just don't think it's going to be possible," Brindley said of returning to play pro hockey, the uncertainty still evident in his voice after his decision was made public.

After all, this is the guy who left it all on the ice during Florida's run through the Kelly Cup playoffs last season. Brindley, remember, he's a defenseman, scored four goals and added nine assists in just 16 playoff games, helping the Blades to the American Conference Finals, where they lost a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Dayton Bombers on May 17 at Germain Arena.

Brindley was visibly crushed after that game.

""It's tough to put into words how frustrating it is," he said that night. "For whatever reason, it wasn't meant to be."

Obviously, that's not the way Brindley wanted his hockey career to end. And he stops short of calling this year's decision not to play a "retirement." After all, Brindley remains in the Southwest Florida area. If the Blades end up down a few defensemen during the season, it wouldn't be terribly surprising to see No. 15 back on the ice at Germain Arena.

For now, though, Brindley leaves the ECHL and the Blades, though he remains in Southwest Florida. A Thunder Bay, Ontario, native, Brindley and his family have decided to make Southwest Florida home, thanks in large part to the Blades.

"Playing hockey here has been such a privilege for me," he said on Monday, several times repeating how grateful he is to the community and to his fans. "My experience with the Everblades is a big reason why we have decided to make our home here."

Making his home here means Brindley will focus on his landscaping business to support his family and give up his pro hockey career.

Monday, as the rest of the Blades skated together and ran through drills, Brindley went to work. It was just any other day for him, but it marked the end of what he called a summer-long effort to try to play hockey.

"I trained all summer long to stay in shape," he said. "And (Fleming) and (general manager Craig Brush) have been trying to convince me to come back all summer. That's part of what made it so hard. They have been so good to me, and my experience has been so good with the Blades. But it was time."

Brindley said that changes in the ECHL league itself have made it more difficult for players like him, Berg and McDonald. The league has become more focused on developing younger NHL prospects.

"Over the last 10 years, they have been getting away from having the older players in the league," Brindley, a nine-year pro hockey veteran, said of the ECHL. "It's tough to play hockey for a living when you have a family. And there comes a time when you need to make that transition. For me, (Berg) and (McDonald) now is the time."

Fleming understands Brindley's reasons for not coming back.

"He's at a point in his life where he has a business, two young children ... He just couldn't dedicate the time to being a pro hockey player," Fleming said. "He will definitely be missed. When Ryan's on; he's on."

With just five signed defensemen on the Blades training camp roster, it was clear the Blades had left a spot for their '06-07 captain. And as of last week, Brindley still hadn't told fellow veteran and fellow Miami of Ohio alum Ernie Hartlieb about his decision.

"I've known this guy forever, and he won't even tell me," Hartlieb said then.

After finally hearing the news from Brindley this past weekend, Hartlieb faces the reality of being one of just two veterans on the Blades -- and competing without one of his closest friends, as he and Blades struggle to develop a new identity without Berg, Brindley and McDonald.

"This is a great opportunity for other guys to step up and show some leadership," Fleming said after the first training camp practice since 1998 without Brindley, Berg or McDonald. "I think you'll see a lot of players (that you don't know now) who will make an impact by the end of the season."

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