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This article is copyright 2007 by the Fort Myers News Press and is used for informational purposes only.

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Blades camp includes nine returnees

Longtime players Berg, McDonald not among them

By Chris Umpierre
Fort Myers News Press

Reggie Berg and Brent McDonald won’t be there, but the Florida Everblades will have plenty of familiar faces when the team kicks off training camp Monday morning.

Nine players who played on last season’s club will be on the ice for the club’s first practice of the 2007-08 ECHL season. That number is considered high for a league known for constant player turnover.

Forwards Ernie Hartlieb, Brad Zancanaro, Jon Lehun and Derek Damon and defensemen Brett Peterson, Steve Czech, Martin Tuma and Bret Nasby and goalie Justin Peters are back after helping Florida reach the American Conference Finals.

“It’s going to be exciting to see what type of team we have this year,” said Damon, who was sent to the Blades after being the last cut in camp for the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport (Conn.) Sound Tigers. “Mr. (general manager Craig) Brush and coach (Gerry) Fleming spent a lot of time putting this team together.

“They always create a team built to win a championship. It’s not going to be any different this year. Our main goal is to win the Kelly Cup.”

Berg and McDonald’s absence will be felt. The 31-year-old Berg, the franchise’s all-time leading point and goal scorer, retired recently after seven seasons with the club. The 28-year-old McDonald, who has played six campaigns with Florida, is taking a year off to focus on his new hockey training business.

Together, Berg and McDonald scored 523 points (235 goals) in 591 games. That’s a lot of production to replace.

Forwards such as Damon, Lehun, Brad Herauf and J.B. Bittner will need to fill the void. Bittner, 25, may have been the team’s top offseason acquisition. He scored 40 points (15 goals) in 48 regular-season games with the ECHL’s Augusta Lynx last season. He also played seven games in the AHL with two teams in 2006-07.

“They’ve put together some great forwards, guys who will fit into roles very well,” Damon said. “As long as we buy into our systems, the sky is the limit.”

The Blades will be older and more experienced than in past seasons. There are just three rookies on the club and the team’s average age is 23.8. Players such as Hartlieb (eighth professional season), Herauf (fifth) and Bittner (fourth) will provide leadership.

Probably the camp’s most interesting position battle will be at goalie. Justin Peters, a 21-year-old Carolina Hurricanes farmhand, will be fighting with a Florida Panthers prospect. The Panthers will send either Tyler Plante, 20, or David Shantz, 21, to the Blades.

The Panthers were still contemplating the move Saturday afternoon.

“This team will be very similar to past years. We’ll be young but we’ll be competitive,” Blades coach Gerry Fleming said. “We’re going to be a skill puck possession team. We’ll be creative in the offensive zone but at the same time responsible in the defensive zone. One thing I know we’ll do is compete night in and night out.”

ECHL PRESEASON

Who: The Florida Everblades vs. the Mississippi RiverKings of the Central Hockey League When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday Where: Germain Arena, Estero Tickets: 239-948-PUCK

Camp roster

The Everblades’ camp roster includes the following players as of Saturday afternoon:

Forwards: Derek Damon, Jon Lehun, Grant Goeckner-Zoeller, J.B. Bittner, Ernie Hartlieb, Brad Zancanaro, Kyle McAllister, Brad Herauf and Jarret Lukin

Defensemen: Steve Czech, Brett Peterson, Martin Tuma, Bret Nasby, Brandon Roach and Steve Ward

Goalie: Justin Peters

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