The USF ice hockey team is getting ready for their biggest test of their season. After finishing second in the Southern Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs —losing to the University of Tampa in the championship game— the Ice Bulls lifted their regional ranking from 13th to eighth.
After a disappointing regular season that saw the team go 8-17-1 (4-8-1 in conference play), the Bulls were able to charge into the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Southern Regional Tournament on the back of a four game win streak. Highlighting that streak was the team’s 3-0 victory over the number one ranked Florida Gulf Coast team.
“Well we went in knowing that we’d have to have a perfect game to beat them,” said junior Richard Budd. “You can’t go in and make mistakes against a team like that, or they’re going to pick you apart. Luckily Sammy (Coleman) stood on his head and gave us chance to win that game and in the third period we got some big goals.”
The Ice Bulls were able to keep FGCU scoreless through the first two periods, but found themselves in an identical situation, being out-shot and with time limited as they entered the final period. The team was able to strike quick and often in the final period.
“Obviously they dominated us on shots, I think they more than doubled our shots by the final whistle,” said senior alternate captain, Huw Baveystock. “I think if you keep it close and your goalie makes a few good saves, and you keep it tight on defense then I think you’re always in the running to steal it from a team like that.”
“The moment for me when I knew we could do it was when Mike Budd was streaking down the left wing, cuts in and dekes the goalie out of his skin.”
While USF fell short in the SCHC tournament to their crosstown rival, the Ice Bulls were able to extend their season even further, earning a spot in the regional tournament and giving them the opportunity to attempt a run for the national tournament. The start of that journey will begin later today against the University of South Carolina Gamecocks as the two teams faceoff at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, FL.
The two teams have a brief history, previously playing against each other in a 2015 tournament that was held in Daytona. USF came out victorious with a 4-3 overtime victory, but this a new year and a new team.
“I remember South Carolina; they’re a gritty team,” said senior alternate captain, Michael Budd. “They’re very physical and I’m sure they’re going to play the same way when they come here. It’s regionals so it’ll be high intensity, but we expect that and we look forward to that.”
Coming into this game though, the team knew the importance of finding a balance between enjoying the success from the SCHC playoffs and preparing themselves for the upcoming challenges.
“We need to keep the intensity up here; we can’t go light,” said senior forward Stephen DeMarco. “We won some big games here. We’re definitely having fun and we’re just happy to be in the regionals at this point. You can’t take any team lightly, even if you’ve played them before. You think you know how they play; but again, just like we beat FGCU, anything can happen.”
One factor that the Ice Bulls have going in their favor is a true home ice advantage that they haven’t been able to utilize in the past.
“I think our new rink is something to be proud of,” said DeMarco. “You get more home fans coming out and bringing that energy. I’ve been here for three years and two and a half of those were in Ellenton, and it was disheartening to see no one out there. The other team had more fans than you. To bring our 'A' game here shows what this new rink can do for us.”
USF’s game against South Carolina will be held on the Busch Gardens Rink at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, FL, with the puck dropping at 5:30 P.M. Tickets cost $10 and admission is free for anyone with a valid USF student ID card.