The USF Ice Bulls hosted the ACHA South Regional tournament at their new home, Florida Hospital Center Ice, as they and seven other teams attempted to earn a spot in the national tournament. USF, the eighth seed, was slated to play against the fifth seeded South Carolina Gamecocks on Friday evening. The Bulls had plenty of support from the fan section, as the seated area of the arena were filled with green and gold.
Both USF and South Carolina found themselves in a hard fought game as neither team scored in the first 60 minutes of regulation hockey. The Bulls were out-shot 15-5 and 25-15 in the first and second periods respectively. However, the Ice Bulls we able to surpass the Gamecocks’ shot count in third period after the team was able to draw five penalties, but couldn’t convert on the power play.
USF sealed the game up after senior forward Stephen DeMarco rushed up the right wing and sniped the puck behind the South Carolina goaltender, five minutes into overtime. The victory advanced the Bulls to the next round and sent South Carolina home earlier than they had hoped.
The next day USF hosted the Liberty University Flames on Saturday, beating Liberty by a score of 6-3.
While the tightly contested game was much closer than the final score showed, USF would never trail after taking an early lead when the Bulls’ junior forward Weston Moon buried the puck in the back of the net just over three minutes into the game.
“It’s fun, it kind of gets the crowd into it. The first goal always helps to push the momentum in our way so the earlier we can get one the better,” said Moon on scoring early in the game. “It got the crowd going, it got us going, and they came back with one to tie it up but we never let it down, so it helps a lot.”
USF was able to hold on to their one goal lead as they headed to the locker room after the first period, but Liberty would quickly tie the game six minutes into the second.
A goal from Logan Sheehan would put the Bulls back on top for the time being, but the two teams would trade goals once more before the end of the second, with a game-tying goal from Liberty’s Kyle Jassman and a late USF goal from Kenny Weightman.
With the Bulls still holding a narrow 3-2 lead with just one period left to play, the pressure was evident from both teams as penalties piled up, combining for eight total penalties in just the third period.
Alternate captain Huw Baveystock would open the third period’s scoring, giving USF some wiggle room and putting them up 4-2 just a minute and a half into the period and while Liberty would manage to cut the deficit in half seven minutes later, the Bulls’ freshman goaltender Sam Coleman, practically built a wall in front of the crease, shutting down any further comeback attempts.
“The thing that I always want to do is give my team a chance,” said Coleman. “If they can score, I want them to be able to count on me to be there and help them out and that’s what happened in a couple games getting here, especially last night with 1-0 [win over South Carolina] and the overtime game. I just want to be there for them when they need me.”
With under two minutes remaining, the Bulls’ celebrations would begin as Lukas Medo and Michael Budd found goals of their own, putting the game out of reach for Liberty and locking in USF’s spot in Columbus, Ohio for the ACHA Division III National Championship Tournament as the South Region’s fourth seed.
While USF has qualified for the tournament, they still need help getting there. If you’d like to donate and help your hockey team represent USF in Ohio, visit www.gofundme.com/USFHockey.