By Aileyahu Shanes
Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10
For the first time since 2015, the Florida Gators are your Savannah Hockey Classic champions. This weekend, the Gators traveled 200 miles north to faceoff against two bitter rivals: the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida State Seminoles. The Gators found success this weekend in claiming the Thrasher Cup. Here is a recap of that weekend.
Day one started off with a game between Georgia Tech and FSU. The 6:00pm game was a high scoring affair; but ultimately, the Yellow Jackets came on top 7-3. Georgia Tech captain Matthew Connelly picked up the player of the game award for the Yellow Jackets, while Florida State defenseman Ryan Meyer picked up the player of the game for the Seminoles.
At 8:30pm, the puck dropped for Florida’s match against Georgia. Suiting up in their new orange uniforms, the Gators wanted to make a good impression against the top team in the SECHC. On the other end, the Bulldogs showcased their new blackout Savannah edition jerseys.
The Gators dominated the first period. Less than two minutes into the game, Jacob Horwitz scored off a feed from Parker Mara to take the first lead of the game. At the middle of the frame, Harrison Haber deflected a shot from John Hunt to put the Bulldogs at a two-goal deficit. Mason Burdick shined in goal and the Gators had a solid defensive performance, especially when it came to their shot blocking.
However, the second period saw the opposite results for Florida. Just 30 seconds into the period, Jackson Katz buried in a goal assisted by Matthew Bigda and George Mesaros. With 11:38 to play in the second, William MacDonald scored from a wide angle slapshot that trickled in off Mason Burdick’s right shoulder. With four minutes to go in the second, Dylan Spicer put the puck in the back of the net to put the Bulldogs on top. Bigda recorded his second point and second assist of the game on the goal. By the end of the period, it was 3-2 Bulldogs after a more dominant offensive performance and a solid effort between the pipes from Georgia netminder Nicholas Newbold.
It seemed like the third period would not go the Gators way as well. In the first minute of the period, Bigda would get his first goal of the game and his third point. From that point, both teams played evenly and both goaltenders were making quality saves. With eleven minutes to play, however, Parker Mara would put in his first goal of the game and second point to cut Georgia’s lead in half. Just about a minute later, John Hunt found the back of the net to tie the game at four. Hunt would get his second point of the game, Haber would get his second as well and Mara would get his third.
No one would score for the rest of the third, so the game had to be settled in a 3-on-3 overtime. No one would score in the extra frame as well. Although both teams had high-quality chances, both Burdick and Newbold would make clutch saves to keep their teams in the game.
So, the game went to a shootout. Since the Gators were considered the away team, they would shoot first. Parker Mara was given the first attempt but missed the net. William MacDonald would then go for the Bulldogs, but Burdick came in with a clutch save. John Hunt went for the second attempt for the Gators and scored off a sick backhand. Jackson Katz would then attempt a shot on Burdick but would be stopped by the junior goaltender. All the Gators had to do at this point was get a goal and it would all be over. Harrison Haber was given the opportunity to put the game away, but missed the net. Therefore, Georgia had to score at this point to keep themselves in the game. George Mesaros took the attempt, but Burdick would blank him and give the Gators their first win of the tournament. John Hunt took player of the game for the Gators with a goal, an assist and a shootout goal. Matthew Bigda was the player of the game for the Bulldogs with a goal and two assists.
The Gators took part in the first game of day two of the tournament, an early 5:30pm game against Florida State. Winning this would be crucial for both their tournament hopes and the fact that FSU is yet another SECHC opponent.
However, there was nothing to be worried about, as the Gators took care of business right away. Less then two minutes into the first, Isaac Blank would score his first D2 goal of the season, off assists from Connor Nicholson and Aidan Muruve. The Noles would respond with a goal from Ryan Meyer about five minutes later, but John Hunt would regain the Gators lead with six minutes to go in the period.
The second period would turn out to be the Gators most dominant, not just in this game, but in the entire tournament. John Coltellino would score the first goal of the period unassisted. Just a minute later, Blank would find his second goal of the game with assists from Matt Gibbons and Jacob Horwitz. With around eight minutes to play in the second, Nicholson found the back of the net off another Gibbons assist. To top off the period, Harrison Haber would score his second goal of the tournament off assists from Hunt and Mara. In a blink of an eye, the Gators took a slim 2-1 lead to a whopping 6-1 beat down over Florida State.
The third would see no scoring from either side, so the Gators would take the game 6-1. With another solid performance in net from Mason Burdick and a powerful offensive show, the Gators were able to stay undefeated in Savannah. John Hunt was again given the player of the game for the Gators with the game-winning goal in the first period and an assist in the third. FSU goaltender Jason Proot would be awarded the player for the game for the Noles. Although he let in six goals, he still managed to stop 38 shots after a sloppy defensive performance from his teammates in front of him.
Although Florida found two solid victories, they could not be declared tournament champions just yet. They still had to wait on the 8:30pm game between Georgia and Georgia Tech. For the Gators to take home the Thrasher Cup, they would either need a Georgia Tech loss or for the Yellow Jackets to win but give up over two goals. Fortunately for the Gators, Georgia played a solid game and took down Georgia Tech 4-3.
With that, the Gators were awarded the Thrasher Cup for the first time since 2015, after winning it in back-to-back years. Although you can give the award to multiple players on the team, John Hunt was declared the tournament MVP, coming up with two goals, two assists and a game-winning-shootout goal.
Not only was this weekend a success in that UF took home a coveted trophy, but they also managed to beat two SECHC opponents to help them climb up the SECHC standings. The top eight teams in the conference go to the playoffs and the Gators now hold the ninth spot. However, they have more games in hand then six of the eight teams ahead of them, giving them a good shot at the playoff spot.