by Leah Mize
The men’s club ice hockey team at The University of Tampa defeated Florida Gulf Coast University in two games this weekend. This is their tenth year of competition in the American Collegiate Hockey Association with seven wins and one tie.
The team has faced the University of Miami, Kennesaw State University, the University of South Florida, and most recently Florida Gulf Coast University so far this season.
“It’s a very good start, definitely compared to the last two years,” said Billy Cody, junior right winger.
The team has been taking their season more seriously compared to previous years, especially with the new players they’ve added according to Stephen Buck, director of media communications and left winger.
“The older guys could tell in the first few weeks that we were going to have a good team because we were watching tryouts and we could tell that this team was going to be special,” said Buck.
Stephen Kucera, head coach, attributes the team’s success to the depth of this year’s team.
“We have so many strong players,” said Kucera. “Any of our lines can score which provides a ton of reliability across lines.”
However, the team is working toward further improvement in practice.
“To compete on the national stage we have to master our movements off the puck,” said Kucera.
The team has never won a national championship. Last season the team made it to nationals but lost to Fairfield University in overtime 3-2.
This season the team is looking to learn from their previous games in order to overtake dominant teams like FGCU, “We need to have a winning season against teams like FGCU,” said Kucera. “The purpose of having a winning season is to recognize as a program that we can beat them.”
The team won games against FGCU on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 11 and 12 at home 4-1 and away on the road shut them out 10-0.
Having depth on the team is important in achieving the national success that the team is aiming for.
“No one or two skaters can carry the whole team at a time,” said Kucera.
With more “tools in the arsenal” this season the coaches have more flexibility to be strategic in how they put their lines of forwards on the ice.
“I feel like this year the team is a lot closer,” said Cody. “It helps because everyone’s there supporting everyone else on the team, we all just want to be better.”
“We have the chance to do something good this year,” said Buck.
Players have to adapt to what is happening on the ice and to think ahead to potential moves even when they are not in possession of the puck. This is an element of gameplay the team has been concentrating on.
“Our new coach, Craig Stahl, has been really helpful in bringing new drills to practice,” said Kucera. “He is just fantastic with the drills and what he does with the guys; they’re just eating it up.”
Stahl most recently played for the Columbus Cottonmouths in the Southern Professional Hockey League before retiring. He was also drafted in the eighth round of the 1996 NHL draft, 215th overall, by the Detroit Red Wings.
Stahl has also played in the Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL) and the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). This season is his first as a member of the UT hockey coaching staff.
“He’s played a lot professionally and the way he carries himself is truly remarkable,” said Kucera.
The next UT home game will be held on Saturday, Oct. 26, in which the team will play Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at the UT Pink the Rink charity game at the Clearwater Ice Arena.
“We love to have people there,” said Buck. “The more fans come, the better we want to play because you never want it to be quiet in the arena and just hear the puck hitting the sides.”
Leah Mize can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org