By: Marinna Stopa
Handing the undefeated University of Tampa Spartans its toughest battle yet, Friday night started the Gaspierlla weekend off with a bang.
Aided by the cheers of a voluminous and rowdy student section, the Gators got the game started quickly, keeping play away from goalie Nathan Shield, in for his second straight start, and in the Tampa zone.
Despite the team’s offensive efforts, it would be Tampa that would get the first goal of the game nearly five minutes into the first period, off a slapshot that sailed right over Shield’s glove side.
Florida did not let this slip up stop them and were able to score its first goal of the game on the powerplay with 11:11 to go in the opening period. Off a shot from the point made by defenseman Vaclav Prospal, forward Jackson Choi was able to clean up the rebound and get it behind Tampa goalie Shea Grant.
Less than three minutes later, with the Spartans distracted by a “missed call” by the referees, forward Joshua Weinstein was able to capitalize on Tampa’s lack of attention and whistle a shot into their net, giving the Gators its first lead of the night.
Tampa forward Colm Trainor was able to tie the score up at two a piece with less than six to go in the first frame, getting a shot past the Gator defense’s blocks.
Florida was able to regain the lead yet again with 90 seconds left to go in the period, with a goal by center Max Thellab off great passes by center Parker Mara and Choi.
To start the second, Tampa put up two goals, taking the lead back, the second of which was scored only a couple of seconds into the teams’ fourth power play of the night.
This didn’t last long, however, after Florida also got its fourth power play opportunity of the night with under seven minutes to go in the period. Choi got his second goal of the game, this time off a beautiful pass by Mara right in front of the netminder that the forward was able to shovel away.
Capitalizing on a 5-on-3 opportunity later in the period, Thellab then got his second of the game, with assists going to Mara and defenseman Matthew Brkljacic.
The Gators went into the final frame in the lead yet again, this time with 5-4 on the board.
Just like the previous period, the Spartans were able to tie up the game then take back the lead quickly to start the third period, with both goals coming within the first six minutes.
With just under four to go, Tampa got its final goal of the night, extending its lead to two.
Center Luke Braun wouldn’t let his team go down without a fighting chance, scoring his eleventh goal of the season with three and a half minutes to go.
Unfortunately, the Gators couldn’t tie up the score for a final time in the dying minutes despite incredible efforts to do so and the Spartans took the Friday night battle 7-6.
Of the 21 games they’ve played thus far, this is only the sixth time Tampa trailed at some point of the game – and only the third where they trailed multiple times.
Florida’s six goals were the most the Spartans had given up all season and most since October 30, 2021, when they also gave up six to Embry-Riddle.
Previously, they had given up four goals in four separate games, but haven’t since the beginning of November against UNC-Wilmington.
Key Florida Players:
- Jackson Choi: (2G, 1A)
- Maxim Thellab: (2 G)
- Parker Mara: (3A)
The fact that it was Gasparilla weekend was definitely apparent two days later, when the two teams rematched Sunday afternoon.
Play seemed to happen in slow motion on both ends of the ice for both teams.
With that being said, it was a much more defensively-focused game.
It was an absolute clinic in both nets, as both goalies pulled out all of their moves to shut the game down offensively.
Passes were crisper, penalty kills were tighter, and hits were better received, especially compared to Friday night.
Many of Florida’s problems stemmed from sloppy play in front of goalie Mason Burdock and at the blue line.
This is the reason the first goal of the game, scored by Tampa defenseman Daniel Griffen for his second of the weekend, hit the back of the net half way through the game.
Spartan goaltender Will DeCaso put a couple of really great saves on Choi and Weinstein at the end of the second period, keeping his teams’ lead to one and his shutout campaign intact.
Off a tough giveaway at the blue line by center Tom Walker, forward Jake Karant was able to go one-on-one with Burdock and score, extending the Gator deficit to two.
With ten minutes to go in the third period, Karant would strike again, this time on the power play, solidifying the 3-0 UF loss.
With the two losses, the Florida Gators fall to eighth place in the CHS and snap a six game win streak that stretched back to the overtime win against FAU in early November.
The team will travel to Columbus, GA this weekend to take on the Auburn Tigers (9-7-3), hoping to get back in the win column and enter the playoffs on solid footing.