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.

Gators Gameday: Preview vs Georgia Tech

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

Let’s hope the Gators are well rested, because they have a tough test this weekend. The 5-3-1 Gators are facing the 12-5-0 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in a back-to-back-weekend series. This matchup is important for Florida’s SECHC playoff chances, as the Yellow Jackets are conference rivals. The Gators also have seven SECHC games left this season, and this weekend’s games comprise of two of them.

Georgia Tech’s season has been very impressive. On top of their 12-5-0 overall record, they hold a 5-0-0 record against SECHC opponents, giving them a good chance to secure one of the top eight spots to make the SECHC playoff. The Yellow Jackets have been dangerous, with their focal point being their dominating offensive production. Take their last two games for example. In a back-to-back matchup against Kennesaw State, Georgia Tech scored eight goals in each game, securing wins in each.

Georgia Tech’s players are putting up incredible individual stats. One player to watch is team captain Matthew Connolly. Connolly is a junior forward from Suwannee, Georgia. In just fourteen games, Connolly has put up 32 points, eighteen goals and fourteen assists. Forward Ryyan Reule is also someone to look out for. The Devils Lake, North Dakota, product has 24 points, twelve goals and twelve assists in only fifteen games. Another impressive Yellow Jacket is freshman defenseman Earl Gretzinger. The Bronxville, New York, native has 21 points in seventeen games. He was also good enough to win CHF Freshman of the Month for the month of November.

The Gators are looking to come out with two wins with some fresh faces on their roster. Forwards CJ Newlon, Brad Christman and defenseman Lewie Schacht are all making their DII debuts tonight. Newlon, a junior from Daytona Beach, recorded eight points in as many games for the DIII squad. Christman is a graduate student from Michigan, who recorded five points in eight games for DIII. Schacht is a junior from Gainesville. The Alachua County resident scored five points in only six games for DIII.

Both games will be played in Atlanta at the Atlanta Ice Forum. Puck drop for tonight’s game is at 7:30pm while tomorrow’s game will start at noon.

Player Profile: Connor Nicholson

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

Leadership, it is a characteristic that is needed on any team, no matter big or small. It would be impossible for the Gators to find success without it, whether on the ice or off, and team president Connor Nicholson is a key leadership piece for this team.

The junior, majoring in accounting, currently calls Sarasota home; however, Nicholson’s roots start in St. Louis, Missouri, where he started learning to skate at the age of two. “I was barely able to walk,” said the center, “and she [Nicholson’s mother] had me skating. So, that was my first exposure to it [hockey] and then… they got me on a team when I was probably four years old.” Nicholson had a lot of inspiration to get into the sport from family members who were very involved in it. Connor’s older siblings, including his older brother Brendan, who is a former Gator forward and team president, were key factors in exposing him to the game. “I had older siblings who played,” said Connor on his two older twin siblings, “so, when they were out training, my mom would just go and have me skate.” Connor also has family in the media side of hockey. His uncle is long-time St. Louis Blues play-by-play announcer John Kelly. Kelly is also the son of former sportscaster Dan Kelly, who also called games for the Blues. Unsurprisingly, Connor Nicholson is a big Blues fan. “We had season tickets every year, so I went to a ton of Blues games back then.” Nicholson said.

So far, Nicholson has put up five points, three goals and two assists in nine games. Although he doesn’t put up flashy numbers every game, it’s what he does off the ice that really makes a difference. “This year, especially with the guys we have and how much talent there is in the locker room, I think I’m most needed to do some of the smaller tasks,” said Nicholson, “maybe sometimes which go unrecognized, which could be some of the different leadership things I bring to the table. I think that might be my greatest aspect.” Leadership is something that is very important to Nicholson and is an important skill to have when being the team president. “I think that leadership is such an important characteristics that a lot of people have the opportunity to develop through sports,” said Nicholson, “and I definitely think that this is one of the qualities that you can take away from playing with a team and playing with an organization; and it can really apply to real life and anything you do, whether your just starting out in a job or whether you’re an executive. I think there’s always room for leadership and all these different leadership opportunities really will arise.”

If he had to pick a player to emulate on the ice, it would be former Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk. “Just the error free games he plays… and I think his leadership really showed through during games,” said Nicholson. “It was not just an individual effort all the time.” Although he was not on his home-town Blues, Datsyuk was also Nicholson’s favorite player growing up. “I was following the Wings as well growing up.,” said Nicholson, “I really liked all the things Datsyuk did for the team as a whole, not just himself. When you look at all these different highlight reel plays, you see all these crazy moves he makes with his hands and these crazy shots… that was awesome, and I loved that part of him, but there was a whole other part that people didn’t really see to the side of his game… how much all the different talents he has built the team around him as a whole.” This trait is comparable to Nicholson’s strengths. What he does for the team’s overall success makes a huge impact. Yes, goals and points matter a lot, but it’s what you do off the ice and the little things on the ice that can create a big impact; and Connor Nicholson embodies that so well.

Although they have done well so far, there is still a lot more of this season left to go, with a very important Savannah Hockey Classic tournament coming up in just a few weeks and a handful of road games. Although these trips are daunting, they are some of Nicholson’s best memories with the team. “I think it’s what really brings us together the most,” said Nicholson, “… we are put in these different situations where we are all together at all times and it’s just an awesome experience.” Since Nicholson is still a junior, he still has a full season and half to continue making these memories and contributing towards the team with his strong leadership ability.

Player Profile: John Hunt

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

While this Gator team has talent up and down the roster, there is one player that clearly stands out on the ice. His name seems to be associated with every goal, and he takes control of each game. That player is senior center John Hunt. 

​The food and resource economics major from Ft. Myers currently leads the Gators in all scoring categories. He has twelve goals, nine assists and 21 points in just nine games. His dominance really started to show in the first game of the University of Tennessee series. In the first game of the series, he came out with a hat trick and an assist, including the overtime game winner. 

Although only standing at 5’9’’, Hunt has shown a huge presence on the ice. From his speed to his playmaking ability, Hunt has a plethora of skills in his tool kit. If John Hunt had to choose his biggest strength, however, he would say his hockey IQ. “Just knowing where to be and where the puck’s coming.” said Hunt on this strength. Although his favorite player growing up was Sidney Crosby, John Hunt emulates his game after another Nova Scotia, Canada, native and former QMJHL prospect: Nathan MacKinnon. “He likes to shoot the puck,” said Hunt on MacKinnon’s playing style, “and once in a while will do something flashy. He doesn’t try to do too much. He’s always just getting pucks deep, shooting a lot and then, once in a while, he’ll have a crazy, highlight reel goal.”

​While being from the west coast of Florida, Hunt decided to play his high school hockey in Connecticut at Westminster Prep. “I had worked really hard to get to that level,” said Hunt, “because I wasn’t going to go up there if I wasn’t ready. So, I went up there, got looked at by a few schools and that [Westminster Prep] was one of them that I really liked and we kind of figured out a way that would work.” Westminster Prep is a great program with a tough training regimen. “You’re on the ice every day,” said Hunt on the program, “If you want to go before class you can go, mandatory workouts every day…. Getting structure from a program like that was really helpful.” The structure has clearly shown how helpful it has been, with it translating to Hunt’s success with the Gators currently. Over his three-year tenure with the prep school, Hunt recorded 21 points. “After high school, I went to an NCAA DIII school called Hobart, which is in upstate New York.” said Hunt. Unfortunately, Hunt’s stint with the team did not last long, as he was cut. However, Hobart is a very tough and prestigious program, and making the team is very difficult. 

​Although not being able to play Division III NCAA hockey, Hunt seems to have found a big role at the University of Florida and has made lasting memories along the way. “When we played in Savannah,” said Hunt on one such memory that stuck out to him, “…we played against Florida State and then we played Georgia Tech. That was a really fun tournament. I personally had a really good tournament, but also just beating Florida State was a really good accomplishment.” Hopefully Hunt and the Gators can have another successful Savannah Tournament and carry the team to further success this season.

Player Profile: Matthew Brkljacic

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

When your teammates place upon a nickname like “Bobby Orr” on you, it’s hard to live up to those expectations. As a defenseman who had 1.39 points per game over his twelve-year NHL career, one must be truly worthy to be compared to one of the best offensive defensemen of all time. However, freshman Matthew Brkljacic lives up to that mold and the nickname that was placed on him.

Brkljacic is currently a freshman majoring in business. He has a big frame, standing at five feet eleven inches and 170 pounds. Although he went to high school at Plant High in Tampa, he was originally from Windsor, Ontario, where he first fell in love with hockey. Although living in Ontario, Berkie became a Montreal Canadiens fan. “It’s got to be a Canada team growing up in Canada; and it wasn’t Toronto because that was who was closest, and my dad’s a Canadiens fan.”

Berkie is having a phenomenal season so far. In just seven games, he has recorded a total of eight points, three goals and five assists. He currently leads all defenseman on the team in points. He really started to break out during the UCF weekend. In the first game of the back-to-back he had two goals and in the second game he assisted on four goals. “I think that’s when it took charge,” said Brkljacic when asked when the “Bobby Orr” nickname started. “Connor [Nicholson] would make jokes on the bench and so would the coaches about my style of play.… I got to basically live up to the nickname now.”

Although he is named after the legendary Boston Bruins defenseman, Brkljacic emulates his game after another defenseman from a northeastern team. “P.K. Subban,” Brkljacic instantly answered when asked about the player he tries to model his game after. “He used to play on the Canadiens when I was growing up; he was my favorite player.… He’s an offensive defenseman heavily, which I see as being more productive for the team and more exhilarating to watch in general. So, when I watched him, I fell in love with his style of play and try to do it myself.” Like Subban, Brkljacic also has great puck control and skating ability. This always makes him a threat on the ice and allows him to create seamless offensive breakouts. “I’ve always been a quick player,” said Berkie, “speed has always been my number one.”

Like most players, Brkljacic got into hockey at a very young age. “I’d say about five, maybe six, I started [playing hockey], and it was growing up in Canada that played a big factor into it, just a huge sport up there. The stereotype is absolutely true. It’s something that everybody does at some point: play hockey. Through that, I grew up in a good city where there were competitive teams that I could play on, and I carried that through ever since.” He played competitively for three to four years in Windsor for the Windsor AAA Zone, formerly known as the Windsor Spitfire, a AAA program. “[AAA] is the highest you could possibly go as that age.” Said Brkljacic. However, right before high school, Matthew and his family moved to Tampa. “Obviously I wanted to continue playing hockey, but I didn’t know at the time that there was good hockey down south like this.” Said Brkljacic on his move and hockey hopes. However, Berkie was able to find competitive hockey in Florida. He joined the Plant High hockey team, where he put up 34 points in 46 games over the four-year span, and he joined the Florida Alliance, a AAA team that was part of the North American Prospects Hockey League. “It was a team that was put together and practiced on weekends on occasion,” said the defenseman on the team, “and then had games and you would train on your own.” After that, Brkljacic decided to continue his pursuit of hockey by taking a gap year and playing in the USPHL, a junior hockey program consisting of DIII college schools, for the Boston Junior Bruins. This experience helped Brkljacic transition well as a freshman. “I played with guys that were older than me during that year and got a lot from it. It was a good time. I think it made the transition that much easier… just cause it’s faster. You’re playing with some big boys out there, so it’s going to be more physical than what your typically used to…. So, playing with older guys now, it’s similar to junior hockey, in a way, from a size perspective.” Although being a younger guy in the USPHL, Berkie was still able to put up thirteen points in 41 games.

Only a few games in and Berkie is already making memories. “What’s going to stick around the most is the Embry-Riddle game,” He explained on his favorite memory so far, “Just cause, even when playing junior hockey, we never had fans to that extent, not even close. So, walking into that, I wasn’t expecting that from SEC club hockey…I got on the ice and honestly had chills.” The freshman defenseman still has a whole college career ahead of him, but even with a small sample size, it looks like Brkljacic will be a cornerstone for this Gator team for years to come.

Gators Gameday: Preview vs South Carolina

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

After splitting their back-to-back with Florida Atlantic University, the Gators are heading to Columbia, South Carolina, to take on the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. Coming in as the number nine ranked team in the CHF, the Gators have a lot of hype to live up to.

Overall, the UF roster has been solid. Even with Vinny Marino being out the last few games, the team was still able to find success on the ice with how deep their roster is. Of course, John Hunt is still leading the way. He has nineteen points so far in just seven games. Parker Mara and Harrison Haber have also been increasing their point totals, recording ten and nine points respectively. Matthew Brkljacic is leading Gator defensemen in points. He has three goals, five assists and eight points in just seven games.

The Gamecocks, however, are no team to mess around with either. They have a plethora of offensive talent that can be overwhelming for opponents. In their last game, they defeated UNC Charlotte in a 12-0 blowout. They have a 2-1-1 SECHC record and a 5-1-1 overall record.            

The first game will be tonight at 8:15pm while the second game will be held on Sunday, November 7th at 9:00am. Both games will be played in Columbia, South Carolina, at Plex Indoor Sports. The games can also be watched live on the Gamecocks YouTube channel (SGTV).

Gators Rank Ninth Nationally in First CHF Rankings

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

This season just keeps on getting better and better for the Florida Gators. This Wednesday, the CHF released their national and regional rankings for the league’s collegiate teams. Rankings are done by MYHockeyRankings.com. There are two main criteria in the ranking system: average goal differential and strength of schedule.

Nationally, the Gators ranked ninth out of all CHF affiliated teams. These teams come from every CHF conference in every region. The regions include the Mid-Atlantic, East, North, and Southeast. The Gators 5-2 record gave them a 96.94 rating from the ranking system, which allowed them to secure the number nine spot.

The national rankings start at number one with Binghamton University. They have a 6-1-0 record and received a 99.01 rating. At second came Farmingdale State College. They are also 6-1-0 but came just shy of the first-place finishers with a 99.00 rating. Babson College came in third, Quinnipiac University placed fourth, Fairfield University placed fifth, University of Delaware came in sixth, University of Tampa came in seventh and the University of Georgia secured the eighth spot. Just under the Gators, at tenth place, is FAU, which UF split a back-to-back with just two weeks ago.

In addition to their number nine raking nationally, the Gators also ranked third in the CHF’s Southeast region. This region includes three conferences: the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League (ACCHL), the Southern Collegiate Hockey Conference (SCHC), and the SECHC. Just ahead of Florida are the University of Tampa and the University of Georgia, which ranked first and second respectively. FAU ranked fourth, Auburn University ranked fifth, ERAU ranked sixth, the University of Mississippi ranked seventh, the University of Tennessee ranked eighth, USF ranked ninth and Georgia Institute of Technology came in tenth.            

This CHF ranking just comes to show how far the Gators have come and how respected of a team they are. It’s only uphill from here, but this team is on the right path to success.

Gators Split Weekend Series With FAU

By Aileyahu Shanes

Follow on Twitter @a_shanes10

The Gators knew this weekend’s matchups were going to be their biggest tests of the season so far. The FAU Owls are known for their dominant success throughout the past couple of seasons. Although the Gators dropped the first game of the series, they bounced back in Game Two to show that they are still a team to compete with. Here is a breakdown of the two games.

Friday night’s game started out with FAU asserting its dominance right off the bat. Their offense dominated the first period scoring five goals. The first goal came from freshman forward Nick Solarino with an assist by David Israel. After that, Israel scored to bring the Owls’ lead to two. Junior Matias Weir then cashed in a goal from Clayton Cleveland and Myles Davidson to make it a 3-0 game. Sophomore freshman Michael Lesh put his name on the score sheet after that to make it a 4-0 game. David Israel recorded his second assist, and third point, of the game on that goal. To end off the period, junior Jake Friedman ripped one home to bring FAUs lead to five.

The Owls started out the second with the ice tipped their way again. Early in the period, junior Myles Davidson cashed one in with assists from Jake Friedman and Connor Doherty. The Gators fought back at the back end of the period, however. Andy Buchannan put UF on the board with his first goal of the season. Connor Nicholson than cashed in his second of the season off an assist from Parker Mara. By the end of the middle frame, the Owls led 6-2.

From then on, however, the Owls controlled the rest of the game. Jack Friedman scored the first and second goals of the third period to complete his hat trick. Nick Solarino then capped off the night with his second goal of the game. The final score was 9-2 FAU where the next game would be played the next day at 1:45pm.

It seemed in Game Two, however, the Gators finally cracked the code against the Owls. The first period did not show it, with FAU’s Jake Friedman recording his fourth goal of the weekend, but the Gators completely dominated the rest of the game.

From the second period and on it was all UF. Andrew Kuczynski put the Gators on the score board to tie up the game at one with his second goal of the season. Later in the period, who else but John Hunt would give the Gators the go-ahead goal with an assist by Parker Mara, who would have an amazing weekend overall. The score was now 2-1 UF at the end of the second and the Gators had a lot of momentum going into the last frame.

Florida used that momentum to score four more goals in the third. Harrison Haber started out the third period scoring with his fourth goal of the season with assists from Aidan Muruve and John Hunt. Parker Mara then recorded his third goal of the season to make it a 4-1 game. Assists came from John Coltellino and Hunt. After that, Connor Nicholson scored his second goal of the series to bring the Gators’ lead to four. Hunt recorded his third assist on the goal. To put the cherry on top, John Hunt chipped in his second goal, and fifth point, of the game to bring the score to 6-1.

The Gators may not have started off the weekend the way they wanted, but they made up for it with a dominant win the next day. This just shows how well this team can bounce back and stay toe-to-toe with their opponents.

The next Division Two game for the Gators will be against the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. It will be another weekend two game series on November 5th and 7th.