By Marinna Stopa
The Florida Gators were able to take home three of the four available points this weekend, forcing both games against the high-scoring Florida Atlantic Owls to go into overtime. Both games featured tons of man advantage play, solid goaltending, and great individual efforts from a variety of players on both sides of the ice.
The story of game one was the volume and success of odd-man opportunities, with four of the nine total goals coming while on the power play.
FAU got the game started a minute and 43 seconds into the first period, on a stretch pass from defenseman David Israel to forward Jacob Friedman, catching the Gator defense asleep on their feet.
Five minutes later, freshman center Luke Braun was able to even up the game off a feed from freshman RW Josh Weinstein and sophomore defenseman Jacob Horwitz.
The rest of the period saw the two teams exchange goals once more, the next coming from FAU’s Griffen Bono just two minutes after the last. The last goal of the period came with five minutes left in the period from UF’s freshman RW Evan Edwards for his sixth of the season, assisted by freshman LW Nick McCann and senior center Connor Nicholson.
There was one shorthanded goal in the game, which came towards the end of the second period and was the only goal during the 20-minute frame. Nicholson’s calm breakout under pressure from the power-players sent Braun in on goal once more, 2 on 1, where he walked not only the defensive pair, but the goalie as well, tucking the puck away into an empty net to give the Gators their first lead of the weekend.
All three goals in the third period came on the man advantage, with goals from FAU’s #68 Keith Goldberg and Friedman, and one from UF’s freshman defenseman Bohdi Duncan sandwiched between the two near the halfway mark. Braun took the original shot and was unable to get past Owl goalie Ciaran McNelis, but the freshman from London, Ontario was able to put it away for his second of the season.
The Gators biggest obstacle the entire weekend was FAU’s 6 ‘3, 190 pound Toronto-born defensemen, David Israel. He assisted four goals throughout the weekend, with his lone goal being the game winner, a deflection on the power play during overtime of game one, ending the game with a 5-4 win.
Notable Gator performances:
#9 Luke Braun: 2 goals, 1 assist
#20 Connor Nicholson: 3 assists
#29 Mason Burdick: 27/32 shots faced for a .844 SV%
Following their gut-wrenching overtime loss, the Gators brought the heat during game two.
An Owl’s deflection gave them the lead only 35 seconds into the game, but the Gators controlled the remainder of the period, aided by smooth skating, solid transitions and great shot selection.
Just over two minutes after the game opening goal, Weinstein got his first of the season after deflecting freshman Zach Zelmanski’s shot from the point.
With 10:29 left in the period, McCann put on a show by throwing a shot on net then picking up his own rebound and spinning around to move past an FAU defender and put it in the back of the net.
Not to be understated was the incredible play by junior goalie Nathan Shield, who faced a couple of odd man rushes in the first, all of which he calmly turned away.
FAU Defenseman Justin Greenberg was able to squeak one five hole through Shield following a shot from the blueline from Israel on the man advantage at the halfway point of the period.
Three Florida players were called for three individual infractions, with the first called on senior defenseman John Coltellino, then 1:50 later, Edwards was called for holding. Just eight seconds later, a questionable crosscheck call on sophomore defensemen Matthew Brkljacic that gave FAU a 5-on-3 for almost two whole minutes.
However, the Boca Raton team was unable to do anything with all the space on the ice and the Gators were able to gain momentum from a very active penalty kill.
With 7:12 to go in the second, Braun was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and was given a bench penalty, carrying a 10-minute sentence in the box. Since it was a bench penalty, it did not give the opposing team the man-advantage and Weinstein was able to score his second of the night about 90 seconds later at even-strength.
His goal started from a great individual effort from Nicholson, who used his speed to keep the puck in the zone and pass to Weinstein in front of the goalie, who was then able to shoot a couple of times then do his own little spin move to put it away and return the lead back to the Gators.
Freshman center Max Thellab was especially noticeable during the second, causing a lot of FAU turnovers and forcing the Owls outside the blueline. Freshman LW Jackson Choi seemed to be everywhere you look as well, getting in between the legs of opposing players and stealing pucks left and right.
The third line consisting of freshman Josh Shraiberg, Joshua Weinstein, and Connor Nicholson looked especially crisp, making tape-to-tape cross-ice passes and putting immense pressure on the Owl’s own third line.
Shield started the third off with a pair of terrific saves, making some Marc Andre-Fleury-type windmill glove saves to keep the Gators ahead 3-2.
Unfortunately, FAU was able to capitalize on an unorganized Gator defense and put together two incredible passing sequences that gave Shield no chance, giving the Owl’s their first lead since the two minute mark of the first, and seemed to be ten minutes away from closing out the sweep with a 4-3 victory.
Yet the Gators were determined to prevent this at all costs. Their efforts were soon rewarded, too, as defenseman Horwitz kept an attempted FAU clearance in the zone following a breakaway chance from Braun, and was then able to take the puck straight down the middle of the ice and snap a beauty of a wrist shot to beat FAU goalie Gunnar Stevens and tie the game up late.
Too cool to not mention: Horwitz, #44, was able to score on the 4-on-4 to make it 4-4.
The rest of regulation was riddled with penalties, none of which amounted to anything on the scoresheet, forcing the tied game to go to extra minutes once more.
The five minutes started with little action at center ice as both teams got set up. Then, only 37 seconds in, an innocent looking blue-line shot from Brkljacic deceived Stevens, who let the defenseman’s soft shot slip by his pads and into the net, giving the Gators their fourth win in their five most recent games and solidifying a spot towards the top of CHS South standings. Handing the Owl’s only their third loss of the year, the Gators proved they’re very much a contender within their respective CHS division, and will look to build off this win in a rematch against UCF this Sunday, which will serve as the finale to the Gators’ fall semester schedule.
Notable Gator Performances:
#91 Josh Weinstein: 2 goals
#44 Jacob Horwitz: 1 goal, 1 assist
#28 Nick McCann: 1 goal, 1 assist
#39 Nathan Shield: 36/40 shots faced for a .900 SV%
Barring any changes due to Tropical Storm Nicole, your Florida Gators will travel this Sunday to the RDV Ice Den in Orlando for a midday match against UCF, with puck drop scheduled for 1:30 PM.
Edited by Makena Winch