By Aileyahu Shanes
Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10
The women’s basketball team weren’t the only ones to face a number one nationally ranked club. The Florida Gators hockey team also had to battle against a college heavy weight, the University of Tampa Spartans. The Gators played two games over the weekend, one on Friday and one on Sunday. Although the Gators came in with a lot of momentum, they were still not able to keep up with the Spartans.
The first game in Clearwater started out with Tampa immediately showing their force. Halfway through the first, Tampa’s Tyler Kelly scored his fourth of the season to get his team on the scoreboard. The Spartans would proceed to score four more goals in the period, coming from Matthew Needleman, Ryan Murray and Jake Karant. By the end of the first period, Tampa was up 4-0 and winning in the shot department 19-17.
Since Florida goaltender Mason Burdick let in 24% of the shots attempted on him, freshman Tyler Uhr was given the responsibilities between the pipes. However, that was not enough to change the momentum. In under five minutes into the period, Tampa’s Stephen Buck and Augustin Aldridge found the back of the net to bring Tampa to a 6-0 lead. With six minutes to go in the period, however, John Hunt would put the Gators on the board. Tampa would go on to score another from right winger Jack Manware, but Phillip Vanderlaat would get his sixth goal of the season to end the period with a 7-2 Tampa lead.
The final period was all Tampa as well. With goals from Evan Hoffberg, Tyler Kelly (his second of the game) and Frank Catalina, the Spartans would win the game 10-2. The top performers of the game were forwards Tyler Kelly, Matthew Needleman and goaltender Joseph Bagi. Kelly would finish with two goals and an assist, Needleman would come out with a goal and two assists, and Bagi would record a .946 save percentage and only two goals against. The one bright spot for the Gators is that Parker Mara played a good game, coming out with two assists.
Florida would hope for redemption in Clearwater on Sunday, but they would not get it. The first period started out well. The Gators held the Spartans scoreless for half the period until Connor Nicholson would find his sixth goal of the season to give the Gators a 1-0 lead. However, the flood gates would open for Tampa once Frank Catalina tied it up with his second goal of the weekend. Tampa would finish the period with two more goals, one from winger Ryan Andrew and the other from center Evan Hoffberg.
The second period was disastrous out of the gate. In just under two minutes, Hoffberg would get his second goal of the game and Connor Berry would put one past Burdick as well. With 18:05 left in the period, Tyler Uhr was brought in relief for the second straight game. Tampa would get one more goal in the period, Berry’s second of the game, to enter the third with a 6-1 lead.
The third period would look a bit better for the Gators, but still not enough to call it a success. With 13:37 left in the game, Catalina would get his second of the match on a power play. However, the Gators struck right back after Owen Barno found his fourth goal of the season short-handed. With four minutes to play, Berry would finish off the hat trick to give the Spartans a six-goal lead. Just 20 seconds later, Barno would get his second of the game off an assist from Parker Mara. Tampa would finish the game with another goal in the final minute from Stephen Buck. When the dust settled, Tampa came out on top with a 9-3 victory.
Stars from Sunday’s game were Tampa’s Connor Berry, Ryan Andrews and Evan Hoffberg. Berry would finish with a hat trick and an assist, Andrews would get a goal and five assists, and Hoffberg would record two goals and an assist. However, Tampa’s win could not have been achieved without solid goaltending from Shea Grant. Their hybrid approach worked once again this weekend, this time with Grant putting up a .930 save percentage and only letting in 3 goals on 43 shots. Although this game was dominated by Spartans once again, Florida’s Owen Barno would put up two goals, an impressive feat by the sophomore.
This weekend might have been tough for the UF hockey team, but luckily, these games don’t count against the SECHC standings. The Gators still have many games to go and still have a solid chance of making the conference playoffs. This upcoming weekend, the Gators will face off against another SCHC team, the University of South Florida Bulls. Hopefully, they will redeem themselves this Friday and Saturday.