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July 5, 2022

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Ice Ice Billy

Kelly Cup, Southwest Florida demand perfection

Wranglers Finals Game 2

Florida Everblades fans cheer on their team’s efforts against the Las Vegas Wranglers during Game 2 of the Kelly Cup Finals at the Orleans Arena May 15.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Southwest Florida is a dangerous place. Losing one's footing near a canal can mean a sizable meal for an alligator. An awareness lapse while driving will cause one's rental car to be collected by the scores of lane-drifting senior citizens wafting down the roads.

And losing control of the puck near the blue line will most certainly mean a diagonal outlet pass to a streaking Florida Everblades attacker on way to a very dangerous odd man rush.

I knew SWFLA had a way of making one pay for mistakes and I should have warned somebody.

Many years ago - perhaps as many as 15 - I was asked by baseball's promotional stunt king Mike Veeck if I had any interest in working for him and taking a top job with the Fort Myers Miracle minor league baseball team. To be asked by the cause of the delightfully infamous 1979 Chicago White Sox Disco Demolition night was like having Bruce Springsteen ask you to play rhythm guitar on his next tour.

There was a catch. This wasn't Veeck's decision alone, and I had to interview with his partner. Veeck would later say that for over an hour I juked and jived with more enthusiasm than I had prudence, but it was good.

Then I was asked a math question. I think it was a math question, anyway. Game over.

It's a simple lesson, I suppose. When the universe, or someone, wants to deny something it will lie in wait for the reason to do so. It's the alligator that waits for the slip from the usually sure-footed, and it's only then when one realizes that despite a high level of skill, energy and desire one may, in actuality, be the unsuspecting underdog.

At this level of competition in the ECHL Kelly Cup Championship Series, the universe has proven to be an unforgiving force. Where excellence is usually enough, perfection is demanded.

In this universe, wearing Wranglers' speedster Eric Lampe's number 7 is as good as wearing a target to those Everblades who look to neutralize him. A pass that misses the tape leads to turnovers and goals, and having a shot go 2 inches in one direction or the other causes Everblades fans to croon "Muuuse" each time Florida goalie John Muse makes a save.

I have never before wanted so much for a goalie to be named "Lebowitz."

Last Thursday, I drove into the parking lot of the Miracle's Hammond Stadium, perhaps in an attempt to remember the math question that derailed me so many years ago. I took a quick look at the stadium, and looped the rental car around to leave only to find the automated gates had closed and trapped me.

On Friday afternoon, that rental car was the victim of a hit-and-run while parked in a shopping center parking lot.

And in Games 3 and 4, this ECHL series has demanded perfection beyond the excellence of this remarkable Wranglers team. That's the nature of this unforgiving Southwest Florida - a land of carnivorous, automated-gated, lane drifting, hit-and-running, math-question asking odd man rushes through the slot.

The correct answer, by the way, was 80,000.

Billy Johnson is the president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Wranglers.

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