By Aileyahu Shanes
Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10
After over a year of waiting, Florida Gators hockey is finally back. The Gators have not taken the ice since February of 2020 and have been itching to get into some action. Although there are many familiar faces on the roster, there are also a lot of young newcomers who bring a lot of talent to a hungry Gator team looking to make it to the SEC tournament in Nashville.
“It looks like there is a lot of young talent that I am very excited about,” star defenseman Andrew Kuczynski explained. “It’s more than we probably ever had. [We have] a lot of kids that have played a lot of high-level hockey; so, I am really excited about the talent level.”
There is a lot to look forward to this season. The UF hockey club is not only playing in one division, but there will be a DII and a DIII team. The roster has a ton of leadership up and down the lineup and the team is bringing in young and talented players to fill it out. It is obviously very exciting, so here are some key dates to keep an eye on when it comes to Gator hockey for the 2021-22 season.
The first game of the season will be played on Friday, September 10th against the Embry-Riddle Eagles. The Eagles have not released this season’s roster just yet, as they are currently in the process of holding try-outs; however, the Gators look to come back from their 6-2 loss when they last played ERAU. The game will be played at Daytona Ice Arena where puck drop will take place at 7:00pm EST.
Friday, September 24th will be the University of Florida’s home opener against the University of Tennessee. They hope to take both games of the double header by building on the momentum from their last game against the Volunteers when they recorded a 9-8 victory. However, this will not be an easy task. Tennessee has a talented roster of players. One notable skater is center Drew King. King was the teams leading scorer in the 2019-20 season recording 37 points in 18 games. The second highest scorer on the team was Michael Curtis who was 17 points behind King. The home opener will take place at 9:00pm EST at the Advent Health Center in Wesley Chapel, Florida.
Florida Atlantic University
A powerhouse in the 2019-20 season, the Gators are facing a tough opponent on October 22nd and 23rd. The Owls had a 12-0 SECHC record and a 16-4 ACHA record in the last played season. Returning winger, Matias Weir, is a big player to watch. Weir led his team in scoring, during the Owls dominant season, recording 72 points in just 24 games. FAU also has a plethora of young recruits in forwards Connor Doherty, Michael Lesh, and Nick Solarina; and defenseman Ryan Brockett. The game at the Florida Panthers Ice Den in Coral Springs will take place at 8:45pm EST.
Savannah Hockey Classic
The Savannah Hockey Classic is always an event to look forward to. Featuring the Gators, Florida State University, the University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech; the four teams will battle it out to win the Thrasher Cup. Throughout the past four years, the Georgia schools have been lights out; however, the Gators hope to win the tournament for the first time since 2015. The games will take place at the Savannah Civic Center on January 14th and 15th. Puck drop for the games will take place at 9:00am EST.
Making the SECHC tournament is one the biggest goals for the UF Hockey Club this season. “Two years ago, we unfortunately did not make the SEC playoffs,” said team president Connor Nicholson in an interview, “but this year, coming in with such a strong group of guys, I think we have the potential to not only make the SEC playoffs, but to win it.” The Gators came in ninth in the SECHC in the 2019-20 season; while the top eight teams make the tournament. It was obviously a big blow for the club; but the team plans to bounce back strong with the additional young talent they have added on. Keep an eye out for the games, as they will be played on February 18th, 19th, and 20th at 7:00pm EST at the Ford Ice Center.