By KIMBERLY CONROY
After a long season, the UT hockey team has been named Southern Collegiate Hockey Conference Champions. UT claimed the title after big wins over Florida Atlantic University, University of Central Florida and rival University of South Florida. The team entered the tournament at the No. 3 seed, with a SCHC record of 6-3-1. After the win, the team also received a bid to play at Nationals in Columbus, Ohio.
The team began bracket in the quarterfinals playing against the Florida Atlantic University Owls, and took the game 5-1. UT scorers included Senior Alex Carde (Defense), Sophomore Logan Underwood (Right Wing), Junior Matt Antonacci (2) (Left Wing), and Freshman Greg Silverman (Defense).
The team then moved up in the bracket to play the UCF Knights in the semi-finals. After splitting the series with the Knights (winning a 5-4 game in Orlando, followed by a 6-1 senior night loss), the team was ready for revenge. The winner of this semi-final game would not only advance to the championship, but would most likely receive a bid to Nationals, so tensions were high.
At the same time, No.5 ranked USF was against No.1 ranked FGCU on the other side of the bracket competing in the semi-finals as well. The team assumed the championship would be a rematch against Florida Gulf Coast University. This wasn’t the first time the two would have seen each other at the championship, FGCU defeated UT last year. But an upset win by USF motivated the team to take the win over UCF.
“It’s a long-standing rivalry. USF gave us our first game when we formed as a team seven years ago and we have played them every year since then. In the past 2 seasons, we are undefeated against them,” said head coach Stephen Kucera.
The Spartans took the semifinal win after six goals to claim the bid to Columbus. Goal scorers included Junior Jake Peterson (2) (Defense), Antonacci (2) (Left Wing) ,Graduate Student Larry Adegoke (Center), and Junior Tommy Duddy (Foward).
UT was then pitted against USF for a rivalry championship. The team competed for #battleofthebay and quickly took the lead within minutes. From that point, the Bulls were trying their hardest to catch up. High scorer of the game, Antonacci collected his 50th goal of the season, making him third in points in the nation. The team took the game 6-3 and for the first time in history, brought home the SCHS trophy.
“Scoring my 50th goal was a great feeling,” Antonacci said. “It is a goal that I set for myself at the beginning of each season. But at the end of the day, the most important part of the season has just begun. everyone that’s playing at nationals has 0 goals and 0 assists.”
The Spartans finished with a 9-3-1 record in the SCHS.
“Quite simply, I am thrilled for the guys. Especially our graduating seniors who have worked so hard to get to this point,” Kucera said.
Not only has the team been accelerating on the ice, but also in the classroom. The team as a whole just completed their ninth consecutive semester of a cumulative GPA of 3.1.
Next up they will be headed to nationals in Columbus, Ohio. This is the second consecutive year that the team will be competing for the national championship. The games will be taking place from March 9-19 at OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rinks and the OhioHealth Ice Haus at Nationwide Arena.
“The ultimate goal is to win the National Championship so myself and the team will put that past us and look to prepare for the big tournament in March,”Antonacci said.
After this weekend’s regional games, the team will know who is in their pool. During the DII Reveal Show, the Spartans were said to be the only “surprise” to receive an auto bid. This year, the Spartans will be going into the tournament to earn respect from not only opponents, but the ACHA.
The national tournament will be screened online on http://achahockey.org/