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Gators Finish Fourth in the CHF Playoffs

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

After coming up short in the 2019-20 season, the Gators finally made it to the conference playoffs. With an 8-2-1 CHS record, the Gators came into the tournament as the sixth seed, but looked to play past their ranking and create a big presence. 

The first matchup would be against the third-ranked Clemson Tigers. The Gators kept solid pace with them early on. Clemson found the back of the net first, with Connor Brydges scoring off feeds from James Conway and Cade Heinold short-handed. However, Florida was able to convert on a power play with 45 seconds left in the period. Phillip Vanderlaat would get the goal with Harrison Haber recording the assist. 

Unlike the first, Clemson took full control of the second. With just under fifteen minutes to play in the period, John McKeon would score, assisted by Jack Owen-Turner and Luke Dobbs, on a power play. Thirty seconds later, Brian Blomquist would extend Clemson’s lead to 3-1, with Cade Heinold getting his second assist and point on the play. Just fifteen seconds later, Herbert Kopf would convert on another Clemson power play, bringing the Tigers’ lead to three. At the end of the period, the Gators started to gain more control. With five minutes left in the frame, Parker Mara would score off assists from John Hunt and Matthew Brkljacic. Parker Mara would then get another goal with just three minutes to play in the second to cut Clemson’s lead to one. 

The Gators took that momentum straight into the last period. Three minutes into the third, Haber would get his first goal, and second point, of the game, assisted by John Coltellino, to tie the game at four. Phillip Vanderlaat would then give the Gators their first lead of the Game, with his second goal of the game, five minutes later off a John Hunt assist, his second of the night. John Hunt would take that momentum and get a goal of his own with seven minutes to play. Haber would get his third point of the night and Brkljacic would get his second on the play. Haber then continued his dominant performance with his second goal and fourth point of the game with six minutes to go, giving Florida a 7-4 lead. Assists went to Jacob Horwitz and John Hunt. After wracking up a plethora of assists, Brkljacic wanted to get a goal of his own. The freshman defenseman would score short-handed to give the Gators their final goal of the game. 

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The 8-2 win meant the Gators punched their ticket to the CHS semi-finals against the University of Georgia, who beat out the Auburn Tigers earlier that night. The player of the game for the Florida Gators was Harrison Haber, putting up two goals, two assists and four points; and the player of the game award for Clemson was given to Brian Blomquist, who put up a power play goal in the second period. 

The last time the Gators played the Bulldogs, they beat them in the Savannah Hockey Classic to help secure Florida’s Thrasher Cup victory. They were hoping to build on that momentum coming into the semi-final game, but Georgia was set on settling the score. 

The first period started with two Georgia goals. The first one came from freshman Trevor Gutmann off assists from Jack Gannon and Jacob Salaski. Gannon came up with the second goal, with Jackson Katz and George Mesaros both putting up assists. Later in the period, Phillip Vanderlaat put in his third goal of the tournament to cut the Bulldogs’ lead in half. Brkljacic and Mara would put up assists on the play, continuing their dominant playoff performances as well. 

The Gators turned things around in the second. Connor Nicholson would tie the game at two followed by a goal by Aidan Muruve to give the Gators a 3-2 lead. However, Matthew Bigda would tie the game at three for the Bulldogs, with Mesaros getting another assist. 

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The third period saw even more scoring. The Bulldogs took back control of the game with Jackson Katz scoring off feeds by Bigda and Mesaros. However, Brkljacic would tie the game at four, with an assist from John Hunt. From that point, however, Georgia took control of the game. Katz would find the back of the net again, assisted by defenseman Lleyton Poole. Mesaros would score the last goal of the game, with an assist going to Jack Gannon, to bring the final score to a 6-4 UGA victory. Parker Mara would take home player of the game for the Gators while Jackson Katz would get the honors for the Bulldogs. 

Although the Gators would not have the privilege of going to the championship game, they still had the chance to play in the third-place game against the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama lost their semi-finals game against Florida Atlantic, who would move forward to take on Georgia in the championship. 

Alabama came into the CHS tournament the fifth-ranked team. In the first round, they upset the fourth-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, but they came up short against the second-seeded FAU Owls. No matter the outcome, both teams would finish the tournament at a ranking higher than what they came into the playoffs with initially, but getting third place would be that much sweeter for both. 

The Gators started the game very well. Five minutes into the first, Connor Nicholson would score his second goal of the tournament from Brkljacic and Mara. Alabama would tie the game at one, however, just a minute later, with a goal from forward Dean Angelo. With just over a minute left in the period, Vanderlaat would score yet another goal for the Gators to regain the lead. Hunt and Haber would cash in on assists on the play.

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The Crimson Tide flipped the script in the middle frame, however. Six minutes into the period, Ryan Olson would tie the game at two, with assists going to Matt Brown and Max Savaloja. Just over a minute later, Alabama would get their first lead of the game. Joshua Beese would convert on the power play with an assist going to Easton Williamson. 

With the Gators down one coming into the final period of the playoffs, it was now or never for them to convert. The first half of the period was evenly matched, and defense controlled throughout, but Jacob Horwitz was finally able to find the back of the net with nine minutes to go. Nicholson would record the only assist on the play. With the way the game was going, it looked like Florida would hold Alabama to overtime; however, with a minute and a half left to play, Easton Williamson would score off a feed from Max Savaloja. The Gators would try hard to tie it up again, but Alabama shut down their defense. The Crimson Tide would take third place in the tournament with a 4-3 win over the Gators. Florida would take fourth place. Jacob Horwitz would take player of the game honors for Florida while Easton Williamson, who scored the game-winning goal, would take the honors for Alabama. 

Later that night, the Georgia Bulldogs would beat out the FAU Owls 4-2 in the championship game. The final playoff rankings are as follows: #1 Georgia Bulldogs, #2 FAU Owls, #3 Alabama Crimson Tide, #4 Florida Gators, #5 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, #6 Clemson Tigers, #7 Auburn Tigers, #8 MTSU Blue Raiders.

Although the Gators fell flat in the final two games of the playoffs, this season was still nothing short of a success. They accumulated a great CHS record, finished in the top ten in the CHF Southeast Region rankings, won the Thrasher Cup and finished fourth in the CHS playoffs. It will only get better from here next season. With young talent ready to take bigger roles on the team and with most of the veterans staying for at least one more season, the only direction this hockey team can go is up. 

Gators Gameday: Playoffs, Round 1 vs Clemson

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

The College Hockey South regular season is finally in the books, and the sixth-seed Florida Gators are ready to take on the playoffs, starting with the third-seed Clemson Tigers. The 2021-22 season wasn’t smooth sailing, but the Gators’ performance was enough to secure them a spot in the playoffs and potentially landing them a spot in the CHF nationals.

The first round of the playoffs will be played tonight. The first matchup of the night will be between the #1 Georgia Bulldogs and the #8 Auburn Tigers at 5:15pm CST / 6:15pm EST. The next game will feature the #4 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets against the #5 Alabama Crimson Tide. The game will be played at 5:30pm CST / 6:30pm EST. The third game of the night will be played between the #2 FAU Owls and the #7 Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders at 7:45pm CST / 8:45pm EST. The final game will take place between Florida and Clemson at 8:00pm CST / 9:00pm EST/

Clemson is a team that has found a lot of success this season. They accumulated a 9-1-1 CHS record and a 10-5-3 overall record. Their performance allowed them to not only secure the third seed in the CHS, but it also allowed them to be the tenth ranked team in the CHF Southeast Region.

 The leading scorer for the Tigers is Jacob Vander Leest. The forward put up 28 points, fifteen goals and thirteen assists in just seventeen games played. Vander Leest is currently a graduate student out of Downers Grove, Illinois. Another player to keep an eye on is freshman James Conway. The forward from Darien, Connecticut, recorded sixteen points in only ten games, including seven goals and nine assists. Cade Heinold is another player to watch. The forward is a sophomore out of Seneca, South Carolina, and put up 21 points, ten goals and eleven assists in seventeen games.

Although the Gators are the underdogs in this matchup, they have the talent and resilience to keep up with this Tiger team. The Gators finished the season with a respectable 8-2-1 CHS record and a 10-9-2 overall record. The Gators also rank closely with Clemson, as they are the eleventh ranked team in the CHF Southeast Region. With a full-strength team, they are sure to play far better than their rankings show.

All playoff games this weekend will be played at Benton H. Wilson Municipal Ice Complex in Huntsville, Alabama. Tickets to the CHS playoffs are sold as season-day passes. Adults are charged $10 per person while children and military members are charged $7 per person.

The team is also raising money in an effort to afford the costs of attending the CHS playoffs. If you would like to help out, be sure to check out the Go Fund Me and make a donation.

Gators Clinch Playoff Spot With Win Over FSU

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

The Gators officially clinched the College Hockey South Playoffs with their win over the Florida State Seminoles in Jacksonville this past Sunday. Florida wanted to end out their regular season with a bang and they accomplished that with their win.

UF made it difficult for FSU right out of the gate. The Gators would score three goals in the opening frame, while the Noles were only able to get one. Defenseman Xavier Morris recorded his first career collegiate goal. The other two goals were scored by John Hunt and Harrison Haber.

The second period saw a more defensive performance from both teams. However, Florida was still able to find a goal in the period. Winger Matt Gibbons would record this one. Just like Morris, this would be Gibbons first career goal.

The Seminoles fought back in the third period, scoring three goals. However, that wasn’t enough to take down the Gators, as they were able to pick up to more goals to end the game at 6-4. Connor Nicholson would get the first one for the team in the period, while Haber would find his second of the game off an empty netter.

Winning the Battle of Jacksonville officially punched the Gators ticket to Huntsville, Alabama for the CHS Playoffs. The Playoffs will go from Friday March 4th until Sunday March 6th. The Gators currently hold the fifth playoff spot; however, depending on the results from the Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss games, the standings are likely to change. Dominating in this tournament will be important, as the top four teams will be invited to play in the Collegiate Hockey Federation National Championship tournament.

Bulls Take Down a Short-Handed Gator Roster

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.

Gators Gameday: Preview vs South Florida

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

The Gators head right back to the Tampa area tonight and tomorrow to face another SCHC opponent. Florida suffered two deadly blows last weekend, but hopefully they can bounce back against the USF Bulls.

The University of South Florida currently ranks 8th in the CHF Southeast region and 14th nationally. The Bulls are currently under .500, with a record of 8-12-1. In their most recent game, USF fell to the University of Delaware 5-4 in overtime on January 30th.

The top point leaders for the Bulls are Danila Mikheev, Alexander Rhoads and Kevin Holman. Mikheev is a forward out of Khabarovsk, Russia. The junior has 22 points in 19 games and leads his team with 14 assists. Rhoads is a graduate student from Morgantown, Pennsylvania. The center has 20 points in just as many games and leads USF with 15 goals. Holman is a hometown Tampa native. He is currently a junior and is averaging just under a point per game with 19 points in 20 games.

The current state of the Gators took a bit of a hit after their matchups against the University of Tampa. They now rank 11th in the CHF Southeast region, after ranking 8th last week, and are 18th nationally, after being in the 11th spot a week prior. They currently have an 8-4-1 overall record and are still in a prime position for an SECHC playoff spot.

John Hunt, Parker Mara and Harrison Haber are still Florida’s leading point scorers. Hunt has 33 points in 15 games and leads the team in both goals (17) and assists (16). Mara also has over a point per game, putting up 18 points in 13 games. The same also holds true with Haber, who has 15 points in 12 games.

The first game will be played tonight at 7:00pm at Advent Health Center Ice in Wesley Chapel. This will be the Gators first game at home since late September against Tennessee. Game 2 will be played the next day, with an early 3:15pm puck drop. The game will also be played at Advent Health Center Ice, but it will technically be considered a USF home game.

Spartans Prove to be Too Much For the Gators

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.

Gators Gameday: Preview vs Tampa

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

The Gators are finally playing in Florida again, this time against the University of Tampa in Clearwater tonight and on Sunday. Not only are the Spartans the number one team in the CHF Southeast region, but they are the number one team in the CHF nationally.

Tampa is currently on a 13-game win streak, coming in with a record of 19-1-1. The team from the SCHC dominates their opponents in convincing fashion. In their last game, for example, they took down Hofstra University in a 12-1 blowout.

This success could not come without some outstanding players. Leading the Spartans in points is defenseman Joseph Davis. The Tampa product has 34 points, 14 goals and 20 assists in just 21 games, currently leading the team in all scoring categories. Additionally, he was also named CHF Defenseman of the Month of December.

Two forwards to look out for are right winger William Cody and left winger Stephen Buck. Cody, originally from Pawling, New York, has 32 points in 20 games. He is coming off a three-point performance against Hofstra, putting up two goals and a helper. Buck hails from Springfield, New Jersey. He has 30 points in 20 games and is also coming off a three-point game against Hofstra, instead putting up three assists.

What is also impressive about the University of Tampa is their consistent goaltending. They use a hybrid goaltending strategy, which means that they equally take advantage of the talents of two goaltenders. One of these netminders is Joseph Bagi. Playing eight games, the Tampa native holds a 6-1-1 record, a 1.86 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. The other goaltender is Shea Grant. Originally from Salem, Massachusetts, Grant holds a perfect 9-0-0 record, a 2.00 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. 

The Florida Gators are coming into this game with a lot of momentum. Although their record doesn’t match up to Tampa’s, they still hold a respectable 8-4-1 overall record and are coming off a successful Savannah tournament. They currently are ninth in the SECHC standings and rank eighth in the CHF Southeast region. Although eighth does not sound that impressive, it is important to keep in mind that the other seven teams ahead of them are all ranked in the top ten nationally. In fact, the Gators are ranked eleventh in the CHF nationally.

Looking at the team’s point leaders, it is no surprise that John Hunt is still on top. The senior is coming off an MVP performance in Savannah. He has 30 points, 16 goals and 14 assists in just 13 games. Coming in right after Hunt is Parker Mara. Mara also holds over a point per game. In just 11 games, the sophomore has 17 points. Just two points behind is Harrison Haber, who also had a great tournament. He currently has 15 points in 10 games.

The first game of the weekend will be played tonight at 10:00pm. Coincidentally, this will be the University of Florida’s second Gasparilla game of the academic year. After the Gator football team lost in the Gasparilla Bowl to UCF, the hockey club is looking to make up for that by beating Tampa in their Gasparilla game. The Gasparilla themed night will pay tribute to Tampa’s Gasparilla pirate festival. The Spartans will also debut their new Gasparilla themed uniforms, which they released on their Twitter and Instagram accounts. The game will be played at the Clearwater Ice Arena, but you can stream the game at BDEHockey.com.

Sunday’s game will also be played at the Clearwater Ice Arena. Additionally, the game will also be streamed at BDEHockey.com. Puck drop for the game will be at 6:00pm.

Florida Gators, as lone unbeaten team, grab Thrasher Cup at Savannah Hockey Classic

Nathan Dominitz

Savannah Morning News

The Florida Gators faced two remaining obstacles in their path to the Thrasher Cup as champions of the 23rd annual Enmarket Savannah Hockey Classic.

On the ice, the Gators played in-state rival Florida State and vanquished the Seminoles 6-1 on Saturday to improve to 2-0 in the two-day event at the Savannah Civic Center.

From the stands, the Gators watched later Saturday night as Georgia Tech, then 1-0, tried to match Florida with a victory over the Georgia Ice Dawgs and force a tiebreaker to decide the champion.

“This will be a first ever, for Florida fans, for a Florida coach, to ever, ever cheer for Georgia to win,” Florida’s eighth-year coach Mike Marcinkiewicz said.

The first tiebreaker was goals against. Florida had wins over UGA (5-4 in a shootout) and FSU (6-1) for a total of five goals allowed. Tech had opened with a 7-3 win over FSU on Friday night, meaning the Yellow Jackets needed to beat UGA and in the process not allow more than two goals, then forcing a second tiebreaker, goals scored.

Marcinkiewicz and his squad felt the tension, heightened when Georgia Tech’s Ryyan Reule scored 22 seconds into the nightcap for a 1-0 lead. 

Tech had confidence after winning two of three against the Ice Dawgs already this season — and UGA had only three losses total in a 15-3 start overall as the top team in the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference.

The Ice Dawgs, however, responded with two goals from forwards Josh Mesaros and Matthew Bigda to lead 2-1 after the first period. Tech evened the game 2-2 on wide-open Zachary Jacobson’s point-blank shot past goaltender Ryan Testino with 7:35 left in the second period. 

When Georgia’s Dylan Spicer scored with 12:54 left in regulation for the third goal against Tech, that clinched the Thrasher Cup for Florida no matter the outcome.

And when Spicer’s teammate Sam Adler scored 1 minute and 50 seconds later, UGA had a 4-2 lead. Tech called a timeout, and closed to 4-3 on Garrett Schueller’s blast from the top of the left circle, but UGA held on for the victory to finish in second place before a crowd of 4,135.

Florida now has won the Savannah Hockey Classic four times, including three under Marcinkiewicz (2014, 2015, 2022).

“We’re just starting to hit our stride right now,” the coach said of the Gators’ season (8-4-1).

Georgia remains the all-time leader with nine Thrasher Cup titles, and Georgia Tech is next at eight. Both could wonder what could have been in their losses decided by one goal, but only Florida went unblemished over the weekend.

“There was obviously a lot on our plate,” Florida junior center Connor Nicholson said. “We’ve never played UGA before (in this season). They’re the first-place team in the league. It was a tall task ahead of us. I think the boys really responded well coming out. The way we handled both games, it was an awesome effort for both games. Bringing this trophy back for the first time in seven years is really an incredible feeling.”

Nicholson and players on all four teams were disappointed when the 2021 edition was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were that much happier to be able to play this weekend in the “Frozen Finale,” a phrase coined by organizer the Savannah Sports Council. The event will move next January from the Civic Center to the Enmarket Arena currently under construction.

“This is the weekend we look forward to every year,” Nicholson said. “Kids who don’t even go to the school are looking at this tournament. It’s an incredible tournament for everyone. Regardless of whatever happens (the rest of the season), this is an incredible win for the program. To see our team name engraved on that (trophy) forever is really awesome.”

Two very different wins were required for the Gators to accomplish their mission. They had battled the Ice Dawgs on Friday night, starting fast with a 2-0 lead only to trail 3-2 after two periods.

“We just weren’t moving our feet,” Marcinkiewicz said of the second period. “We’re losing battles along the boards and everything. We got outworked the second period. So I had to come in the locker room. I lost my voice a little bit. I had to come and yell and do what I had to do. We got back in the third.”

Florida yielded a fourth straight goal to UGA before pulling even 4-4 in regulation. After a scoreless 5-minute overtime period, Florida won the three-man shootout 1-0 behind the effort of goalie Mason Burdick.

“The goalie stood on his head,” the coach said. “He played awesome for us. In the shootout, he stopped all three shots.”

Burdick and the defense then allowed only one goal against Florida State on Saturday, really putting the pressure on Georgia Tech to beat UGA decisively.

“He’s been our rock back there,” Florida defenseman Andrew Kuczynski said. “I’m really so happy we can rely on him, day in and day out. Just a great guy, too, quiet, does his job, and absolutely dependable.”

The Gators also can depend on forward John Hunt, who scored the lone goal of the shootout, was voted the Florida player of the game in both wins, and went on to earn the Greg Stathis Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the Hockey Classic.

“I can’t say too much about John,” Marcinkiewicz said. “He’s a leader. He never takes a shift off, never complains. He goes out there and does his job.”

Taking care of business

Team veterans helped keep the club’s focus between an emotional win Friday night and Saturday’s game against a struggling FSU squad.

Kuczynski said he heard some talk about what kind of goal count the Gators might need to break a potential tie with Georgia Tech later Saturday.

“I tried to squash that,” he said following the 6-1 victory. “We’re trying to go out and win, first and foremost, and play lockdown defense after that. We can’t win (the Cup) if we don’t win (the game). After a good first and second period, we said we’re going to try to lock down the defense and limit them to one, two (goals) maybe at most. I’m pretty happy with how we did that.”

Nicholson said that after seeing how Tech had handled FSU 7-3, the Gators might have come out flat on Saturday. But they didn’t want to miss on a chance to grasp the Thrasher Cup because of a lack of intensity.

It helped that the entire team was staying in one house this weekend and could hang out together. 

“We were talking about it all night: What do we need to do? What mindset do we need to be in?” Nicholson said. “We came in and executed exactly as we planned. It all worked out in our favor.”

Tournament awards

Greg Stathis Trophy for Most Valuable Player — John Hunt, Florida.

The all-tournament team — Florida State: goaltender Jason Proot, forward Ryan Meyer; Florida: forward John Hunt; Georgia Tech: defenseman Garrett Schueller, forward Matthew Connelly; Georgia: forwards Matthew Bigda, Josh Mesaros.

Nathan Dominitz is the Sports Content Editor of the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at ndominitz@savannahnow.com. Twitter: @NathanDominitz

Thrasher Cup titles

Georgia (9) — 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2020

Georgia Tech (8) — 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2019

Florida (4) — 2010, 2014, 2015, 2022

Florida State (2) — 2008, 2016

Note: 2021 event canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Gators Win 2022 Savannah Hockey Classic

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.

Savannah Hockey Classic 2022 Preview

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

If you ask almost any Florida Gator hockey player, either current or former, what their favorite memory with the team is, almost always the answer is the Savannah Hockey Classic. The Enmarket Savannah Hockey Classic is an annual college hockey tournament featuring the Gators, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Florida State Seminoles and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The tournament started in 1999, with Georgia Tech winning the first ever Thrasher Cup. The most recent winners were the Bulldogs in 2020, with 2021 being canceled due to COVID. The Gators are coming into the tournament hoping to win their first Thrasher Cup since 2015.

Via savannahhockeyclassic.com

The Gators first game will be against the University of Georgia tonight at 8:30pm. The Bulldogs lead the SECHC with a 10-1-0 record, clinching a playoff spot. They also have an impressive overall record, going 15-3-0 so far this season. Like Georgia Tech, they are an offensive powerhouse. In their last game, they dominated the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers 7-3 on December 5th.

Georgia has some high-quality forwards in their lineup. Leading the team in points is Jackson Katz. Katz is a senior out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has 33 points, 9 goals and 24 assists in 18 games played. Leading the team in goals is junior Matthew Bigda. The Marietta, Georgia, product has 12 goals and 23 points in just 15 games. Josh Mesaros is a player to look out for as well. The sophomore out of Atlanta has 22 points, 10 goals and 12 assists in 16 games.

Via savannahhockeyclassic.com

The second game will be tomorrow at 5:30pm against FSU. Unlike Georgia, the Seminoles have failed to find consistent success this season. They currently hold a 1-2-2 SECHC record, currently in the third-to-last spot in the SECHC standings, and a 1-8-2 overall record. They did, however, win their last game against the University of Tennessee 4-3 in a shootout; but that was in November, and they may be a little rusty after the long hiatus.

Some notable point leaders are forwards Josh Shames, Hamilton Reese and defenseman Ryan Myer. Shames is a freshman from Hanworth, New Jersey. In his 11 games played, Shames put up 9 points, four goals and five assists. Junior Hamilton Reese leads the Noles in goals with five. The Tampa native has 7 total points in his 11 games. Leading in points for FSU’s defensive group, Myer has 4 goals and 4 assists in just 9 games. The junior is looking to put up a good performance this weekend in his home state.