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Blades jump on top early, beat CHL team, 6-3, in second exhibition

Naples Daily News

ESTERO There was no question who was in control on Saturday night as the Florida Everblades beat the Mississippi RiverKings 6-3 at Germain Arena in the second of back-to-back exhibition games.

While Friday's fight-filled 4-2 Blades win ended with out-of-control chaos, the Blades didn't let that confusion seep into Saturday's game. Instead, they jumped out to a 4-0 first-quarter lead and never let up.

Sure, Saturday's game still got chippy at times, but rather than fight, the Blades restrained themselves before things got too out of hand. After all, these exhibition games don't count for the regular season -- which starts on Friday at Germain Arena against the Mississippi Sea Wolves.

The games were just a good chance for coach Gerry Fleming to see exactly what his young team could do.

Answer: quite a lot. It starts with 22-year-old forward Mathieu Melanson, who followed up his goal on Friday with a natural hat trick, all in the first period, on Saturday, pumping his fist after each effort. On Melanson's first goal, Blades defenseman Brett Peterson was right there with a congratulatory hug.

Translation: Welcome to the team, new guy. We're glad to have you.

"It's amazing what a small world hockey is," Melanson said. "I think a lot of guys knew already that I could put the puck in the net. I've been that way since I was a little kid."

"I had a lot of opportunities (on Friday), but (on Saturday) they found their way in ... I just hope I'm not giving all my goals away in the preseason."

The 11 Blades returnees and 11 new players seem to be meshing just fine so far, sharing ice team and looking impressive in their offensive sets.

In Melanson's third goal, his line looked to be in mid-season form as they charged down the ice in a 3-on-2 fast break. First, Brad Herauf flipped a cross-ice pass to rookie Grant Goeckner-Zoeller, who immediately centered the puck to Melanson, getting No. 25 his hat trick and getting Goeckner-Zoeller his second assist.

Derek Damon put Florida on the board first, though, in his first Blades game action after sitting out Friday night. Steve Czech, Brad Zancanaro, Damon and Peterson all played Saturday after being healthy scratches on Friday. Franklin MacDonald, J.B. Bittner, Ernie Hartlieb and Steve Ward were healthy scratches on Saturday.

Damon's goal came on the very first shot of the game, just 36 seconds in. He said he was fired up beforehand to finally get back on the ice at Germain Arena.

"I definitely wanted to get out there and be with the guys, especially after sitting out on Friday," he added.

It felt like redemption for Damon, who had hoped to get an AHL contract this season and returned to the Everblades after being cut on the last day at Bridgeport Sound (Conn.) Tigers (AHL) tryouts.

The RiverKings weren't finding any redemption on Saturday, though, even as they tried to up the rough play again in the second period, resulting in 11 penalties. Instead of joining in the fights, the Blades focused on offense, scoring two more goals and putting a virtual end to Mississippi's hopes of coming back.

Both second-period Blades goals were scored on the power-play.

Mississippi ended the shutout when Ryan Campbell got hit by Peterson on a breakaway and was given a penalty shot, which he slid past first-time Blades goalie Tyler Plante. It was Campbell's third goal of the weekend.

Besides the penalty shot, Plante, 20, was impressive in his debut. He used his 6-foot-3, 202-pound body to his advantage and wasn't afraid to come out of the goal on the power plays. He finished with 37 saves, making his play for the Blades' starting goalie job, which is up for grabs between Plante and fellow first-year Blade Justin Peters.

"We'll give both guys ample opportunties to win the job," Blades assistant coach Jason Nobili said after the game. "It was nice to see both young guys play well this weekend."

It's probably important to note, too, that the RiverKings had a new goalie in Saturday's game: Nick Boucher. Their starter on Friday was Larry Sterling, the RiverKings' starter in '06-07.

The RiverKings got a couple more goals in the third period as Florida seemed to get a bit lackadaisical, and Plante was fired at 17 times. But no more fights ensued, no one got injured and Florida's young team picked up two wins over the weekend. Not a bad beginning.

"We've got a young team this year, but I think we're pretty balanced. We're starting to get to know each other on and off the ice a lot better," Damon said after the game. "Both teams played hard tonight ... none of that garbage stuff happened."

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