By Jenn Whittaker
With hockey on the rise as a popular sport in Tampa, it only seems fitting that the usually tight-lipped University of Tampa Spartans Hockey Club, coached by Dr. Stephen Kucera of the biology department, opens up to The Minaret about the 2015-2016 season. The team belongs to the Southern Collegiate Hockey Conference and is currently at the top of the standings in their division, but still have a long season ahead of them.
Unfortunately, the game scheduled for Friday, Oct. 9 was cancelled due to illness on the part of the opposing team, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Instead of the game, there was an optional practice that the vast majority of the team participated in. They worked on a passing drill and the power play for special teams. The players stepped up and showed their determination by holding a practice session even though it was not mandatory.
Games and practices are held at the nearby Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, which holds two NHL regulation sized rinks and serves as the official training facility of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Parking can get complicated if you don’t know to drive straight in; go past the Ice Forum building and around to the dirt overflow parking in the back.
The Spartans have a loyal following, with about 50 to 100 people regularly showing up for games. However, this number can dramatically increase as the season goes on. Of the 19 games left in the season, 16 take place at home.
“Our biggest rivalry will be when we play Florida Gulf Coast University,” assistant captain Nick Martin said.
The highly anticipated clash against FGCU takes place tomorrow (Friday, Oct. 16) at 9 p.m. Never in the Spartan Hockey Club’s history have they upset the Eagles, but the team is working to change that. An influx of fresh talent and the return of seasoned upperclassmen has given the team the balance they’ve been looking for.
“New talent on the side of rookie teammates has had a real impact offensively,” Martin said. “No longer is the team entirely dependent on our first two lines for offense. The bottom six, comprised almost entirely of freshmen, are producing goals, too, which takes a lot of pressure off the returning players this year”.
With a roster of 30 players, 11 are freshmen. As far as the returning veterans go, the biggest change this season is in leadership roles.
“The veterans are stepping up, taking practices more seriously and setting a good example for the newcomers on the team,” Martin said. “The team practices this season are more intense, held at a steadier pace and better organized. Also, during games, the veterans assist the freshman players by helping them relax on the ice, settle down and not panic during games. The veterans already know what skill level it takes to be successful and they are passing that knowledge on.”
Additionally, a new workout regimen has been instituted for the team including three days of one-hour strength training and a one day, one-hour session of stretching to keep their muscles ready for battle.
“The team will potentially play one game during the spring semester at Amalie Arena but the details have not been worked out yet,” Martin said. If it does occur, it will most likely be on Feb. 14, 2016. Each year the team usually plays one game at the arena.
There is usually no cost to attend games. However, during the Homecoming White-out Weekend, Oct. 23 and 24, when the Spartans host the Florida Gators, there will be an optional $5 donation collected at the door. All proceeds will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. There will be fan buses picking students up in front of Vaughn and shuttling them to and from the rink for Friday and Saturday’s games.
On Sunday, Oct. 25, some Tampa coaches, staff and alumni will suit up and face off against the Wounded Warrior Hockey Club, which travels around the country putting on exhibition games for charity.
This season the players are digging deep and committing more to the UT Hockey Club than ever before. If already an avid hockey fan or a newcomer to the sport, the games this season are definitely worth checking out.