“We had a great year. I love the boys, we are a family,” said senior forward and team captain Matthew Fenby of the club hockey team. Last Friday, the Spartans’ quest for the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Tournament came to a disappointing conclusion.
The Spartans lost to the University of South Florida (USF) 6-5 in overtime at RDV Sportsplex in Orlando. Their defeat occurred in the first round of the tournament, which was the Spartans’ first ever appearance. Also, this defeat was UT’s second to USF in the past week after losing to the Ice Bulls 6-2 at Amalie Arena six days earlier.
The Spartans came out fighting early on as the score was tied 2-2 at the end of the first period. UT struggled to start the second period as they surrendered two goals which brought flashbacks of the lackluster second period at Amalie Arena in their previous matchup with the Ice Bulls.
Regardless, Fenby was able to cut the deficit to 4-3 after breaking his three-game scoring drought. At the end of the second period, the score was 4-3 in favor of USF.
As the third period began, UT broke through as two straight goals by juniors Nick Martin and Evan Stawarz put the Spartans on top 5-4 in the third period.
The lead didn’t last as the USF scored the equalizer with over three minutes left in regulation to bring the game into overtime. Freshman forward Matthew Antonacci, the Spartans leading scorer, was back on the ice after recovering from a shoulder injury that he suffered in their previous matchup against USF. In overtime, he hit a shot off the crossbar which almost gave the Spartans the victory but the Ice Bulls went on to score the game-winner on the powerplay to end the Spartans hopes of nationals.
“You hate losing to your rivals,” said sophomore defenseman Alexander Carde. “After the Forum game, we knew how we could beat them but the hockey gods did not want us to have it this year. The USF games are definitely circled on our calendar for next year.”
Even though the Spartans journey to nationals has come to end, they will still play in the Southern Hockey Collegiate Hockey Conference (SCHC) tournament to cap off their season as they will look to get bragging rights against their regional rivals.
The Spartans will play against Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) on Friday night at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon in the first round. The other two teams in the tournament are USF and the University of Central Florida (UCF).
Even though the Spartans have eight graduating seniors, Carde believes that the future of the program is bright. “I am extremely excited for the future of this team. We are getting more organized as a whole, and people are noticing.
From where we started five years ago to now, it is a totally different club. Recruits are reaching out to us now and we are catching people’s attention from the University. Our goal for next year is to make it to Nationals and I don’t see any reason why we cannot.”
Phil Novotny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org