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This article is copyright 2007 by the Naples Daily News and is used for informational purposes only.

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Blades pull out 4-2, fight-filled exhibition win

By ANGELA BUSCH
Naples Daily News

ESTERO It was a week before the official start of the Florida Everblades 10th anniversary season, but Friday night's exhibition game at Germain Arena held enough excitement of its own, as an announced crowd of 4,379 fans gathered to see a young Blades team full of new faces take the ice against the Central Hockey League's Mississippi RiverKings.

And the Blades didn't disappoint -- winning 4-2 against the RiverKings and giving fans reason to believe that this year's team could hold some magic of its own, even without veterans Brent McDonald, Reggie Berg and Ryan Brindley.

The Blades will try to repeat Friday's performance tonight, without losing any players to fighting injuries, as they take on the RiverKings at Germain Arena at 7:30. Rookie goalie Tyler Plante will get his first start as a Blade.

Friday's excitement started early.

Everyone at Germain Arena seemed to be holding their breath midway through the first period, as fans, coaches and players alike waited to see if the Blades would capitalize on a 5-on-3 advantage that would last almost two minutes.

If the Blades didn't score here, conventional wisdom seemed to be, there would be reason to worry about this year's young team.

But forward Mathieu Melanson didn't let anyone worry too long.

Instead, the 21-year-old took a scorching pass from forward Adam Taylor. He hesitated a second, placing the puck, and then Melanson swung true -- slamming it past RiverKings goalie Larry Sterling and giving the Blades a 1-0 lead.

"I was glad to get that one -- it was definitely good for my confidence," he said, smiling.

Less than two minutes later, the fans really erupted as veteran favorite Ernie Hartlieb scored a goal on the man advantage.

The Blades' young players proved themselves early on Friday night, and they had to, as four experienced returnees were healthy scratches: defensemen Brett Peterson and Brad Zancanaro and forwards Derek Damon and Brad Zancanaro.

It was the first time at Germain Arena for 10 first-year Blades.

It was Jarret Lukin, though, a returnee for the Blades, who put Florida up 3-0 just a minute and a half after Hartlieb's score.

Of course, Friday's game was not without its shaky moments for the Blades. One of these moments came with two minutes left in the first period, as Mississippi's Ryan Campbell snuck a shot past Blades goalie Justin Peters. It was just the fourth shot on goal for the RiverKings.

Peters was playing at Germain Arena for the first time since one ill-fated game last season, when he was sent down to Florida from the AHL's Albany (N.Y.) River Rats. In that game, Peters gave up six goals on just 28 shots.

But Peters, just 21 years old, is probably allowed a little nervousness -- especially in the preseason. He recovered the rest of the night, finishing with 27 saves after allowing another goal late in the third period.

"(Mississippi) got a lot of opportunities in the second and third periods, and (Peters) was there big for us," Blades coach Gerry Fleming said of the young goalie. "I thought he did really well -- made some big saves."

Also in the second period, the Blades saw firsthand just how physical the CHL can be.

"Things were looking pretty bad for (the RiverKings), and we knew they were going to try and shake things up," Melanson said.

Early in the period, Blades defenseman Franklin MacDonald had an altercation with RiverKings forward Ryan Kindret, during which Kindret went down on the ice for several minutes, eventually skating off and appearing to be OK.

MacDonald got a five-minute fighting penalty and a two-minute instigating penalty, but his bigger penalty may have come when his time in the box ended. Mississippi's Steve Makway was waiting for him right outside the door, and as MacDonald attempted to skate out, Makway immediately dropped his gloves and started punching.

For a few minutes, the hockey game digressed into a boxing match, with a long pause while officials meted out Makway's penalty. He was kicked out of the game.

MacDonald said he saw Makway there waiting for him.

"I didn't want to come out," he said. "But then they opened the door, and I couldn't really do anything. I wasn't going to just stand there and let him hit me."

According to MacDonald, during the earlier altercation, Kindret had slashed him across the face, leading MacDonald to punch him.

"I thought it was evened out," he said. "But I guess they didn't think so ... they were protecting their teammate ... doing whatever anyone would do ... I guess."

For the Blades, the good news was that MacDonald was OK -- and Florida had maintained its 3-1 lead despite the chaos.

Then in the third period, after solid play throughout the night, Blades forward Adam Taylor broke through for an insurance goal to make it 4-1. Campbell added another goal for Mississippi with seven minutes left, but it wasn't enough.

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