By SKYLAR WHITMAN
Last weekend’s two-game series against USF marked the Spartans and the Bulls first meeting since the Southern Collegiate Hockey Conference (SCHC) championship game last season, when UT won 6-3. Prior to the tournament, the Spartans had a 21-6-1 record for the 2016-2017 season.
Friday was a slippery night for the Spartans with a loss—the first of four goals against UT scored on sophomore goalie Sal Corallo (#30) less than one minute into the first period.
USF began ready with heat, but the Spartans couldn’t seem to find the net, or each other. There were a lot of unfinished passes and not enough control to keep the puck over the offensive line.
At 18:53 Larry Adegoke (#8) scored a wrist shot to the bottom right corner of the net on a breakaway during a penalty kill, assisted by captain Matt Antonacci (#27).
“It seemed sloppy in the beginning but the boys came back,” sophomore defenseman Pat Harrington (#7) said.
With .3 seconds left in the period, the Bulls scored their second goal. The shots on goal remained even in the first period, UT with 10 and USF with 11.
“Both goals to me were more of a defensive breakdown,” Corallo said. “Some of the more important goals are scored during the first and last minute of the period and they had both. We just have to work on coverage and keeping our feet on the gas all minutes of the period.”
In the second period, the Bulls were two men down for over three minutes after a holding call and a roughing call, but the Spartans could not get the puck past the USF goalie, despite outshooting the Bulls 15-6 throughout the entire period. Then late in the second, Matt McCarthy (#71) scored for UT, assisted by JT Maloney (#16), giving the team and fans hope for a win. Three minutes later, the Bulls struck back with their third goal.
Both teams were fired up for the third period. It was fast, aggressive, and truly a Battle of the Bay. There were some great plays but trouble getting the puck past the USF goalie.
The Bulls kept possession the majority of the game and had more control over the puck than the Spartans did. With one minute left in the game and UT with an empty net, USF scored their fourth goal.
“We left our goalie hanging,” Assistant Coach Rick Duddy said. “We left the slot wide open and they capitalized with a goal, a nice top shelf shot. That was definitely a turning point and a little bit of defensive breakdown.”
Fans were also unhappy with the referees’ final call.
“The last play was offsides but the refs didn’t call it,” senior Jamie Zale said. “It solidified USF’s lead. If our players communicated more and made cleaner passes we would’ve had it.”
The Spartans spent post-game analyzing their strengths and weaknesses in order to get ready for the following night.
“I think it’s all about preparedness,” Duddy said. “We analyzed the game and said this is what went right, this is what went wrong, this is what we have to work on.”
Saturday night, both teams came on the ice hot, the Spartans knew they wanted to redeem themselves after a loss the night before.
“We were just not able to put any pucks in the net,” senior captain Matt Antonacci said. “We’re going to do our best to bare down and put some more pucks in the net tonight.”
Since many vital players were either injured or away this weekend, the Spartans had high hopes for the younger guys on the team.
“We’re down a lot of significant players,” Duddy said. “Every team is the best when their whole team is healthy and everyone’s there. When we have injuries and we have guys out of town, it’s a great time for the younger players to step up and show what they’re made of.”
However, the Bulls ended up winning the contest with a final score of 5-2, outshooting the Spartans 41-28.
“They always play us hard,” Duddy said. “There’s nothing like a crosstown rival in Tampa.”
In the first period, it was clear the Spartans were focused more on control and communication than they were the night before. Both teams were more aggressive, faster, and always seemed ready to fight.
There were penalties left and right and both teams were constantly playing one or two men down. At 16:52, USF was first on the board with a goal through the legs of UT sophomore goalie Zach Hoffman (#1).
In the second period, Adegoke scored on a power play off a rebound shot assisted by Pat Walsh (#23) and Ethan Turnipseed (#61). Within the next three minutes, the Bulls sniped two more goals against UT.
The third period was a downer for UT, beginning with the captain in the box and later Turnipseed receiving a five-minute penalty. It was more likely for our team to be on a penalty kill than to have five men on the ice at once.
“I was confident we were going to pull it off but a couple of unfortunate calls didn’t help us,” Corallo said. “It made it harder to come back.”
USF scored again at 14:42 and scored an empty netter at 19:40 to seal their win with a three-goal lead.
Next up for UT is the United States Women’s Olympic Team exhibition game at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, FL at 7 p.m. on Oct. 6. During the Oct. 13 home game at 8 p.m. at Clearwater Ice Arena against Florida Gulf Coast University.
“The boys were working hard, but harder work is yet to come,” sophomore defenseman Nick Kusz said.
Skylar Whitman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org