ECHL: Fear with the beard; Everblades begin defense of Kelly Cup

Greg Kahn/Staff 
 Everblades captain Mathieu Roy (15) holds the Kelly Cup after the Everblades won 3-2 in overtime clinching their first ECHL Kelly Cup over Las Vegas at Germain Arena on Wednesday, May 23, 2012.

Photo by Greg Kahn, Naples Daily News

Greg Kahn/Staff Everblades captain Mathieu Roy (15) holds the Kelly Cup after the Everblades won 3-2 in overtime clinching their first ECHL Kelly Cup over Las Vegas at Germain Arena on Wednesday, May 23, 2012.

Greg Kahn/Staff 
 Everblades captain Mathieu Roy (15) holds the Kelly Cup after the Everblades won 3-2 in overtime clinching their first ECHL Kelly Cup over Las Vegas at Germain Arena on Wednesday, May 23, 2012.

Photo by Greg Kahn

Greg Kahn/Staff Everblades captain Mathieu Roy (15) holds the Kelly Cup after the Everblades won 3-2 in overtime clinching their first ECHL Kelly Cup over Las Vegas at Germain Arena on Wednesday, May 23, 2012.

ESTERO — Last year, Mathieu Roy’s dark beard wasn’t yanked out of a pseudo tree stump in western Pennsylvania and surrounded by funny-dressed men eager to make a prediction about winter’s longevity. But the gnarly facial hair of the veteran Florida Everblades forward did serve as something of a prognostic tool, one that turned out to mean at least six more weeks of hockey in Estero.

Rather than adhere to the traditional ritual hockey players follow by growing a beard at the start of the postseason, Roy opted to begin several weeks before the end of the regular season. Considering the Everblades went on to capture their first Kelly Cup, the team’s captain figured he would follow the same grooming maintenance schedule this year.

“I started about a month or two ago. That’s what I did last year and it worked, so why not do it again,” Roy said.

Roy and the Everblades wouldn’t mind experiencing their own “Groundhog Day” by repeating last year’s success. A best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the fourth-seeded Everblades and fifth-seeded Elmira Jackals starts tonight at Germain Arena.

Roy’s beard isn’t the only thing about him that is already in playoff shape. The 26-year-old left wing from Amos, Quebec has played as if he’s been in playoff mode essentially since the start of the season. Those good vibes generated from the Cup run carried into this season.

“I came in with more confidence,” he said. “I came here with a good attitude and had a good training camp. Starting with the first game, everything went well.”

When the regular season concluded Saturday, Roy’s name was at the top of the ECHL scoring leaders. With 38 goals and 51 assists for 89 points, Roy claimed the scoring title and finished with the most goals in the league.

It was the first time Roy has won a scoring title in any league. He learned from his past that ties don’t always mean you get a share of the pie. As a teenager, Roy finished tied for the scoring lead in a midgets AAA league in Quebec. The other player was awarded the title due to having more goals.

This time Roy made sure there would be no tie. Proof came in a remarkable final two weeks of the regular season. He registered 17 points in his last seven games while playing alongside center Corey Trivino and right wing Matthew Pistilli. By the final night of the regular season, there was no doubt who was going to wear the scoring crown. Roy finished 10 points ahead of runner-up Michael Forney of the Colorado Eagles.

Compared to a year ago — in just about the same number of games — Roy had 20 more goals this season and 43 more points. With the team’s ever-changing roster, Roy, who had at least one point in 54 of 69 games and two hat tricks, has remained a consistent and reliable producer in more ways than one.

“He’s doing the same things. He’s blocking shots. He’s going to the hard areas to score his goals. It’s a huge benefit for the team. We really needed his offense this year,” Everblades coach Greg Poss said. “He’s doing a great job on the power play. He’s had power play opportunities the whole season which he didn’t have last year. He’s got a different swagger. He comes in and he expects to score and he expects to produce.”

Roy’s outstanding regular season vaulted the fifth-year Everblade past several all-time greats in franchise history. He is now third in games played and goals, fourth in assists and points and first in penalty minutes.

“Obviously, he’s having a breakout season,” said Everblades left wing Brandon MacLean. “Being our captain and being our leader, he’s definitely showing it on the score sheet, but he does a lot other things right throughout the game. He’s still out there blocking shots and hitting guys and making plays. It’s a privilege to play with a player of that caliber.”

Although he blossomed into a point machine this season, Roy said his game hasn’t changed that much.

“I still like to block shots and kill penalties, but this year I’ve put the puck in the net and everything has gone well,” he said.

In addition to being a valuable penalty killer, Roy has thrived elsewhere on special teams. His 32 power play points ranked second in the league. Being part of a potent power play — the Everblades have the No. 2 rated unit — is nothing new to Roy. Back in his days with Val d’Or in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Roy played on a power play unit with Kris Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins), Brad Marchand (Boston Bruins) and Jerome Samson (Charlotte Checkers — AHL).

“Kris Letang was the most fun player to watch in the league. We knew he was going to be a superstar,” Roy said.

Winning the scoring title is only part of what has made this a special season for Roy. For the first time in four years, he received a call-up to the American Hockey League in late December. He had one assist in a three-game stint with Lake Erie. It was a different kind of assist that helped Roy receive the promotion. His former Everblades teammate Patrick Bordeleau, who was playing for Lake Erie at the time, lobbied the team to bring up Roy.

“He helped me get the call-up. I have to give him credit. I appreciate all he did,” Roy said.

This season has been a good year for both Bordeleau and Roy. They broke into the pro ranks at the same time with Pensacola in the ECHL six years ago and have remained good friends.

Bordeleau has quickly made a name for himself in the NHL as a rookie heavyweight fighter for the Colorado Avalanche. He battled Calgary Flames enforcer Brian McGrattan last week in a slugfest that is now rated as the best fight in the NHL this season on www.hockeyfights.com.

“He did pretty good. It was toe-to-toe. It was unbelievable to watch,” said Roy, whose advice to Bordeleau in recent years to be more active in the fisticuffs department has paid off. “Every year I would tell him, ‘Bordy, you’re 6-foot-6. You need to fight.’ That’s what he’s doing now, and he’s playing good hockey.”

Roy — who has had only one fight this season — doesn’t need to use his fists to gain respect from his team.

The respect is already cemented. When the beard talks, the players listen.

“He leads by example. He says the right things at the right times,” Poss said. “Most importantly, he does the right things on the ice.”

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