Happy Hockey Everyone!
As other teams in the South Division have opened up their training camps and have hit the ice this week, I have noticed some chatter from Icemen Nation wanting to get the skinny on what their beloved Icemen have been up to. This piece will attempt to answer some questions and get you up to speed on the Icemen’s training camp.As many of you know, several other teams in the division have been posting about their practice sessions this week. The Florida Everblades and their home venue, Hertz Arena, are owned and operated as one company. Therefore, they have complete control over operations, including when their ice is installed and event scheduling. The Orlando Solar Bears have a home practice facility at the RDV Sportsplex Ice Den in Maitland and serves as their training camp hub, making access to ice easier.
The Icemen are in a little bit of a different situation this season and there are a couple of reasons why the team is getting a later start to training camp than usual. As we are all learning to adjust to life with the COVID-19 pandemic on a daily basis, Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena has been playing a major role in ensuring the safety of employees and fans at Jacksonville Jaguars games. This fall, the arena has served as the primary safety station for check-in and COVID-19 safety screenings for all gameday employees. It takes a large amount of personnel to put on an NFL game, therefore providing a safe environment for everyone at the games is a top priority. The arena has played a vital part in providing a safe and efficient way to help with this process. Following this past Sunday’s Jags game, the arena began the several-day changeover from a safety staging venue to becoming an arena ready for hockey.
In addition, the ECHL has instituted a strict, but necessary league-wide COVID-19 safety protocol for this season. A good way to describe it is a “virtual bubble”. In years past, the Icemen would normally use the ice over at the Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex for their training camp practices. However, this was not an option this year because the team would not have full control of the league’s safety protocol. It is because of this, and the arena playing host to a necessary purpose for our community, is why the Icemen are getting off to a later start than some of the other teams.
This past Monday, Icemen players began arriving to town. They all checked into the training camp hotel and immediately began following the ECHL’s COVID-19 protocol. These guidelines require all players to quarantine for several days once they have arrived in town and receive a COVID-19 screening test.
While the team patiently awaits for the ice to be installed and for their required quarantine to be over, the players have been using their time to take care of all the usual paperwork and other required tasks. Prior to hitting the ice for every season, players are required to take part in concussion protocol testing as seen in this photo taken on Thursday.
The good news is the Icemen will hit the ice for the first time this upcoming weekend. To make up for lost time, the team will likely take part in "two-a-days", meaning two practice sessions per day. The bad news is these practice sessions will not be open to the public as in years past due to the safety protocols instituted by the league and the arena.
Icemen Roster UpdateOnce the team takes the ice, the Icemen’s training camp roster will be released. The Icemen’s roster is comprised of a great mix of talented veterans such as Wacey Rabbit, and burley forwards Nathan Perkovich and Matt Marquardt. An up and coming core of players entering their second seasons are also back – players such as Brendan Warren, Luke Shiplo, Adam Dauda, and newcomer Abbot Girduckis to name a few. The additions of Eric Neily (Atlanta) and Mike Szmatula (Adirondack) immediately bolster the forward corps, as both players are highly skilled and led their previous teams in many stats categories. Fans can also expect to see some additional signings to the team’s blueline in the coming days.
So what about the goalies? Traditionally the Icemen have relied on receiving their goalies from their American Hockey League affiliates. With a handful of ECHL teams already opting out for the upcoming season due to complications from COVID-19, there are equally as many NHL and AHL teams that will be in need of finding a place to play for their players and top prospects this season. Not to mention, many talented ECHL goalies from those teams opting out will also be in need of a place to play as well. The Icemen have been in talks with a lot of these goalies and teams in recent weeks. Rest assured, there will be some quality netminders manning the pipes for the Icemen when the season gets going on December 11 & 12! _____Alex Reed is the Director of Broadcasting & Communications for the Jacksonville Icemen. Follow him on Twitter @Alex_Reed_PXP or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, or blog topic ideas.