By Aileyahu Shanes
Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10
After losing handedly their two games in Clearwater the week before, the Gators looked to take revenge on another team based in Tampa, the University of South Florida Bulls. Although they are not SECHC opponents, Florida had something to prove on Friday and Saturday in Wesley Chapel: to allow them to climb in the CHF rankings. However, the battle would be a tough one, as they would be missing John Coltellino and Andrew Kuczynksi for both games, and Harrison Haber and Matthew Brkljacic for the first.
The first period started rocky for the Gators. They had trouble clearing the puck and played a sloppy game overall. USF was able to beat Mason Burdick twice in the period. The first one coming from senior forward Zachary Slezak, with an assist going to forward Tyler Young. The second goal came about halfway through the period from freshman Charles Rongo. It was evident that the Gators were very much missing defenseman Matthew Brkljacic, Andrew Kuczynski and John Coltellino.
The second period felt the same way early on. With less than two minutes into the period, Alexander Rhoads put USF up by three. A large chunk of the period was very physical. Cheep shots were thrown everywhere, especially ones targeting Parker Mara. However, Mara got his revenge with about seven minutes to play, with a goal on the power play. A few minutes later Phillip Vanderlaat put in another powerplay goal for the Gators to cut the Bulls’ lead to one. Mason Burdick also looked a lot more comfortable between the pipes, coming up with dozens of clutch saves.
The third period was also a battle to the finish. It got very physical all through out, and both teams were eager to secure the win. With 1:02 left in the game, Coach Marcinkiewz pulled Burdick for the extra attacker. Although the Gators had many opportunities, they were still not able get one past USF goaltender Matthew Richard. At the end of the game, it was 3-2 USF.
Top players for the game include USF’s Alexander Rhoads, Matthew Richard, and UF’s Parker Mara. Rhoads was extremely noticeable all throughout the game. His production allowed him to put up a goal and an assist. Richard seemed like a brick wall out there for the Bulls. On 40 Gator shots, Richard put up 38 saves, for a .950 save percentage. Although Mara only put up a goal, his persistence throughout the game really made him stand out. He was constantly targeted and beat down with cheap shots, but he got up every time and played a great 200-foot game.
The Gators hoped to avenge themselves the next day, this time having Haber and Brkljacic back. Although they put up more of a fight, they still managed to lose by a goal once again.
Like the first game, the Gators struggled to find their footing in the first period. In the first five minutes of the game, Burdick would let in two goals. One came from Kevin Holman, assisted by Danila Mikheev. The other came from Charles Rongo, his second goal of the weekend. Just under ten minute to play in the period, Holman would find the back of the net again, off assists from Alexander Rhoads and Cameron King.
The Gators put up a much better performance in the second, however. Less than three minutes in, Parker Mara would get a goal, continuing his impressive performance this weekend. Haber would score in his weekend debut with eight minutes to go in the second, and Phillip Vanderlaat would score his second of the weekend just a minute later, with Mara getting an assist, to tie the game at three. However, with just four minutes to play in the period, Rongowould get his second goal of the game, to bring the Bulls back on top.
The third period saw a more even matchup between both teams. No scoring came in the first half of the frame, but with eight minutes to go, John Hunt would find his first and only point of the weekend with a goal off an assist from Vanderlaat. The game would only be tied at four for only a little under two minutes, as Alexander Rhoads would bring USF up 5-4, which would ultimately be the final score.
The Gators definitely had a tough weekend. However, bright spots showed with Parker Mara and Phillip Vanderlaat stepping up with a team missing key players. Florida’s next game will be played against Florida Sate in the Battle for Jacksonville. Tickets are on sale now for $20. Each ticket will get you access to the game against the Seminoles, as well as access to the Jacksonville Icemen against the South Carolina Stingrays ECHL game.
The Gators were originally scheduled to play Lynn University this upcoming weekend in Palm Beach. However, the Lynn University hockey team’s equipment was damaged in a fire, and the game had to be canceled. The University of Florida hockey club and the SECHC are very understanding of the situation, and thankfully no one was hurt.