Going into nationals as a number one seed, The University of Tampa was having the best hockey season in the team’s 12-year history. The trip to the National Federation Cup in Philadelphia began Thursday, March 17, with game one starting on Friday, March 18 with games two and three following the next few days.
The trip to Philadelphia was not easy, each player had to pay their own way, setting up GoFundMe’s and holding fundraisers at local bars and restaurants. UT’s hockey team was not letting anything take them down on their quest for the cup.
Getting to Philadelphia was full of pressure, sweat, and dedication.
UT’s Hockey team was the only D3 team at the tournament and went in as the lowest-ranked team attending the tournament as a 25th ranked seed playing against some of the best teams in the nation.
“The tournament was physically grueling for some of us as there were three games in consecutive days,” said Justin Child, goalie, and president of the D3 team. “However, the depth of our team helped significantly in accommodating for back-to-back game days. Mentally we knew that it would be a challenge to even achieve one win on the weekend.”
UT put forth their best effort, leaving the National Federation Cup with a record of 2-1 for their inaugural season. Winning against SUNY Cortland in overtime to a score of 6-5, requiring a two-goal comeback was a highlight of the team’s time in Philadelphia, proving doubters wrong and pushing themselves to the limit.
“We had a lot of pressure against us saying that we weren’t supposed to be there, or we were unwanted there, we had a lot to prove to the Collegiate Hockey Federation (CHF) and other teams, playing against the eighth ranked team Quinnipiac and beating them 3-2 our hopes of making the elite eight of the bracket were still alive,” said Connor Yates, right-wing for UT.
Hockey is a big part of the Tampa Bay area and the area was in full support of the teams going to nationals. Many players enjoyed the support from the Tampa crowd that made the trip to tournament weekend.
“I think the best part about nationals was how many people came to support both the UT teams, people had to pay a base price if they wanted to watch games, and during our games, the rink was always close to full,” said Blake Duffy, defenseman. “I talked to my friend back home in Chicago and they even had our game on in a bar and there were people supporting us from all over the place.”
Some of the players on both teams have been playing hockey since they were a child, dreaming of winning at nationals and playing on center stage. Hockey is not a common sport when it comes to the Sunshine State since it’s sunny pretty much yearlong.
Connor Edward McMahan, D2 center, believes being able to play in nationals and showcase UT on the national stage was a great way to allow UT to be recognized as a household name and bring recognition to hockey in Florida.
The opportunity for nationals was worth it to all players on both teams, the D2 players, some of whom are seniors, had the opportunity to take a chance at the nationals stage, and underclassmen are hoping to do it all over again in the following years.
Game recap of the D2 games:
The final score of game one was 12 to 2, with the Spartans winning against Salisbury University Seagulls.
The final score of game two was 8 to 3, with the Spartans winning against the University of Central Florida Knights.
The final score of game three was 3 to 4 in overtime, with the Spartans losing to the Christopher Newport University Captains.
“They showed incredible tenacity, resiliency, and professionalism over the course of the season,” said Stephen Kucera, head coach of the Tampa Spartans hockey program. “[They] grew as a team and overcame a lot of adversity that we faced together over these past almost seven months. I will cherish the many memories of my time with all of them this season, to win as many games as we did and in a number of times come from behind against, what seemed to be in the moment, the most difficult of odds.”
The last time the UT hockey program had a chance at nationals was when the seniors were freshmen. Hockey is a growing part of the Tampa Bay area and the Spartans are glad to be a part of it.
“It was a very special weekend together for all of us, especially our seniors,” said Kucera.