By Aileyahu Shanes
Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10
The Florida Gators Hockey Club has come a long way since its establishment in 1996. There were a lot of ups and downs, but the program is stronger than it has ever been before. Who would have thought that there would be two teams and a talented roster that is in consideration to win the SECHC tournament? This team is full of memorable moments, games and especially tournaments, but what made this team special were the players. Here is a look at five alumni and some of their thoughts on their tenure with the team.
Let’s start back all the way to 2001. Drew Hill was a former goaltender for the Gators. He played from 2001 until 2005, and he served various officer positions during that tenure. “Most people weren’t aware there was a team.” Explained Hill when discussing the common student’s reaction to learning about the ice hockey club, “We tried to do lots of events to get the word out, but it’s so hard to get people to watch a game when you have to drive an hour and a half.”
All players, especially goaltenders, make special memories when on hockey teams. “Going to Nationals was pretty cool,” Hill said about a memory that stuck out to him, “it’s not something you get to do every year. That was a unique experience, we were really good that year and that was as a freshman.”
Even after his playing career he still held big roles for the program. In 2006, Hill served as the assistant coach for the club, and from 2007 to 2008 he was the Gator’s head coach.
Craig Mauro was also a player that was part of the early stages of the Gator ice hockey program. “So, I was close with one of the coaches at the time,” Mauro said when discussing how he heard about the program, “I was close with his son. I knew they had a team but didn’t really know what it was all about.” Even with that little knowledge of the program coming in, he still played big roles for the team. The forward played from 2002 until 2007. During that time, he made the All-Tournament Team for the 2005 Savannah Hockey Classic and served as the Gator’s captain for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.
He did not stop his commitment for the team there. Mauro served as the assistant coach for the 2007-08 season under Drew Hill. Even now he is still involved with the team. He currently runs the setup of the Gator hockey team alumni games. “Its pride in taking part in something I was a part of for six years of my life,” Mauro explained when discussing the meaning behind still staying involved with the program, “It’s a big pride thing for me and its great to see that the team is still going strong, stronger than it has ever been before. Never in a million years did we think there would be two hockey teams playing … It’s also a force to help connect with kids that you’d play with almost every weekend for four to five years.”
Although it has been a while since an alumni game was run, due to the pandemic, Mauro hopes to continue the event starting in 2022.
We now look back at yet another goaltender: Jake Lewis. A goaltender is a tough position to play, but the Buffalo native had a very good reason for his acquired position, “I’m from Buffalo, New York, and at the time Dominic Hasek was the best goaltender in the world. Pretty much every hockey player [in Buffalo] born in 1990-91 wanted to be a goalie.”
Lewis played until the 2014 season and has gone to many tournaments over his tenure. “There were countless memories. Being on the road with the team, the bus trips, those things were just unforgettable.” This is something every athlete can relate to. Having that quality time with your teammates off campus is something that you can never forget.
If this name sounds familiar to you that’s because Brendan is the older brother of, current team president, Connor Nicholson. “Its just great to see that he wants to be involved in taking responsibility for the team,” Nicholson stated when asked about his thoughts on his brother’s big leadership role on the team, “because having a role on the team, especially a president role, puts so much work on your shoulders.”
Nicholson played from 2013 until 2018 and was very successful during that tenure. In 89 total college games he recorded 89 points. “Obviously I got to wear I was … because of the coaches I had throughout the years.” Nicholson explained, “I could attribute the success I had on the ice [because] I had pretty good line mates … I got to play with some good hockey players then.” And it’s true. During the 2017-18 season, Nicholson played with guys like Daniel Clifford and Zane Katz. The three combined for 140 points that season in just 20 games.
As mentioned before, Daniel Clifford was a great hockey player. The Bradenton native played from 2015 to 2019 and accumulated 133 points over that span; that’s almost two points per game. His success brought the team to the SECHC tournament. When asked about his favorite memory, he said, “SEC beating Georgia. We won the first game in OT versus Ole Miss, then we got outshot [about] 70 to 35 and beat Georgia, who was one of the top teams in the South.”
Clifford’s success and leadership skills were worthy enough for the coaches to name him the captain for his last few seasons. This label gave him a lot of responsibilities, but it ultimately allowed Clifford to be a leader, not just on the ice, but career-wise as well. “I would say it helped a lot,” Clifford explained when asked how being the captain helped him in his current career, “In a college setting it feels like your always in that [leadership] role; making sure people get their stuff done off the ice, making sure everyone is held accountable … We had responsibilities and everyone takes it a bit differently … you learn of how to work and see how people get that common goal … In projects now, not everyone likes to work the same style … just learning that people learn different, react different.”
They may not be playing anymore, but each player still has a connection to this Gator team that will never go away. Being on the team has allowed each player to create lasting memories and strong bonds between teammates. And no matter whether they are still involved or not, they will always have something to take away from that experience that they will be connected to forever.