By Aileyahu Shanes
Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10
The Florida Gators came out victorious in a wild first matchup against the University of Tennessee Volunteers. The home opener was full of exciting moments, with the game ending in a nail biter.
The first period saw a flurry of energy and action right out of the gate. Both teams had numerous scoring opportunities and the skaters had a lot of momentum right off the bat. However, the Ice Vols struck the score sheet first. Senior, and team captain, Drew King sniped the puck into the back of the net a little under five minutes into the opening frame. The goal came on a powerplay that was called on John Hunt for boarding. Freshman defenseman Cosmo Sperduto got the lone assist on that goal. The Gators never backed down, however; as John Hunt redeemed himself by scoring on a short-handed breakaway with seven minutes left in the period. By the end of the period the score remained at a 1-1 tie, with both teams having solid defensive performances.
The Gators had a bit of a rocky start to the second period. For starters, freshman defenseman Jake Lichtman banged himself up after getting hit by the puck twice and falling awkwardly to the boards. He was sent to the dressing room shortly after that but returned a little later with minimal ice time. Just over five minutes into the period, King scored his second goal of the game, with a shorthanded goal, to regain the lead for Tennessee. Just about five minutes later, however, sophomore winger Jake Brown tied up the game for the Gators with assists coming from Owen Barno and Aidan Muruve. About 40 seconds later, Tennessee regained the lead with a goal from junior forward Drew Merino; and just about a minute later, forward Nick Carline made it a 4-2 Ice Vols lead, coming off an assist from freshman Adam Carter. Florida kept with it in the second period, however, with Vinny Marino cutting Tennessee’s lead in half and scoring his third goal of the season. Both Phillip Vanderlaat and Andrew Kuczynski put up assists on the play. With just under four minutes left in the middle frame, sophomore Matt Megazzini, assisted by Nick Carline, brought Tennessee’s lead back to two. With goaltender Tyler Uhr letting in five goals at this point, head coach Mike Marcinkiewz swapped him out for, transfer junior from Ball State University, Ben Acker. The end of the period saw the Ice Vols with a 5-3 advantage over the Gators, which meant an uphill battle coming into the third.
The Gators were motivated to come back in this game, and they did just that. Florida started out the period with three unanswered goals. The first one coming from Vinny Marino, with his second goal of the game, with an assist from Parker Mara. Marino then scored again to finish the hat trick, with both Mara and Brown getting an assist each. The third goal came from Hunt, with his second of the game, which brought the Gators on top for the first time in last night’s game. At this point it was 6-5 Gators with a lot of momentum on Florida’s side. Additionally, Coach Mike decided to bring out Tyler Uhr again and give him another shot. However, shortly after, the Volunteers tied up the game at six after a goal from defenseman Erik Paulhardt. A minute later, the Gators responded right back with a goal from Aidan Moran, assisted by John Hunt, giving the team a 7-6 lead. Tennessee, with six minutes left in the game, then tied the game right back up at seven with Carline’s second goal, and third point, of the game.
At this point, the game was a nail biter. Both teams were playing hard-fought hockey; players were laying on the body, there were multiple scoring chances, and both teams were playing shut-down defense. Then it happened. With just 11.3 seconds left in the final period, John Hunt completed the hat trick and regained the lead for the Florida Gators. You can hear the chaos erupt throughout both the stands and the ice. After that, the Gators ran out the clock and claimed the win in the first of two weekend matchups against the Ice Vols.
This will surely be a game both players and fans will talk about for a while; but the excitement doesn’t end there, as the Gators will be facing off against Tennessee tomorrow at noon at Advent Health Center Ice in Wesley Chapel. The team can use all the support it can get, so make sure to come down just north of Tampa to watch the Gators Ice Hockey Team in action. Tickets to the game will be sold at the door for just ten dollars each. Additionally, Florida Gators Ice Hockey merch will be sold as well; but make sure to also shop online for the full array of items.
If you cannot make it to the game in person on Sunday, the game will be streamed on LiveBarn.com for those who have a paid subscription. Additionally, the University of Tennessee Ice Hockey Team will be streaming the game on their YouTube channel.
Whether you are watching the game in person or online, these past two games have shown that the Gators are an exciting team to watch. Their talent clearly shines through, and it is apparent that they will have a lot of success this season.