ESTERO – Kenndal McArdle didn’t expect this.
He didn’t expect to be playing in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), to be living in this town outside Naples, and he sure didn’t expect walking outside a hockey arena in March in shorts and sandals.
“But you know what?” asked McArdle, the Panthers’ first-round draft pick in 2005. “There’s a lot worse places to be than down here in Florida and getting ready for the playoffs.”
After experiencing the high last spring of helping the Vancouver Giants win the Memorial Cup, McArdle has suffered frustration in his first year at the professional level. Despite the disappointment, McArdle, a speedy, 5-11 left winger, said he’s learning from the adversity.
“You just have to use it as a tool and fight on,” he said last week after a morning practice at Germain Arena with the Panthers’ ECHL affiliate here, the Florida Everblades.
McArdle’s season goes like this: Six games into his pro career with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League, McArdle suffered a broken jaw during a fight in Manitoba that required two surgeries. After returning six weeks later, he played for two months in Rochester before breaking his foot when blocking a shot.
And so after playing in only 36 games with the last-place Americans, the decision was made to get McArdle more playing time by sending him here to the Everblades.
“He’s a high character kid with good speed,” said Panther GM and coach Jacques Martin. “Unfortunately, he’s had a tough year because of injuries. He broke his jaw and missed a lot of time, then had another injury that set him back. So we feel it’s important for him to extend his season this year since Rochester won’t be in the playoffs. We feel playing with the Everblades will get him some playoff action.”
McArdle, the 20th overall pick in the ’05 Entry Draft, said he didn’t know what to expect in his first pro season.
“Looking at it, maybe I was a little unfortunate to break my jaw and foot in the same year,” he said. “But that’s the kind of adversity this sport throws at you and it’s something you have to learn from and fight through, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do all year.”
McArdle broke his jaw in a fight with Manitoba’s Jason Jaffray. The referees were roundly criticized after the fight for not intervening despite the fact Jaffray’s sweater was pulled off during the fight.
|Photo Credit: 20Toe Photo) |
“It was one of those things,” McArdle recalled. “You can get into 100 fights with the toughest guy and it was probably one of those 100 times you actually break something. I was pretty fortunate, though, because I wasn’t wired shut. I couldn’t eat anything hard for four weeks, so I was on things like rice and salmon.”
McArdle wound up losing 12 pounds in four weeks. But the time he got back to his original weight at the start of the season, he was back on the sidelines again, this time with a broken foot.
But McArdle is finally healthy again, and Martin is looking at the 22-year-old to progress these next several weeks with the Everblades.
“I think it’s a matter of him just working on his game,” Martin said. “It’s a setback as far as his development, but because of his character, I think he’ll overcome this and continue to be a prospect for us.”
While some players may have balked at an assignment in the ECHL, McArdle says he’s welcoming the opportunity.
“Every hockey player, every athlete, wants to win,” he said. “On top of that, they want to win a championship. I know that’s what we’re here for and I’m excited about that.
“Anytime you start off a year, the goal of the hockey team and yourself is to make the playoffs. I’m really excited to do so in a pro league, no matter where I am.”